GUINEAN ASSETS SEIZED IN US
By Franck Felix Gutenberg, US Africa News. Updated 2014-12-22
The US Department of Justice recently seized ill-gotten assets belonging to one of the wives of Lansana Conte, former president of the Republic of Guinea.
To fill the family’s coffers, the country’s natural resources were traded for jewelry and suitcases filled with cash. The West African nation of Guinea, courtesy of a new president, is now trying to clean up the mess left behind by the previous regime, cancelling lucrative mining contracts that were allegedly purchased in exchange for a diamond necklace, houses in Jacksonville, Florida, $5.3 million in cold cash, two Toyota Land Cruisers, a freezer full of ice cream, barbecue grills, and display cases for a catering service.
The generous gifts to the former Guinea Head of State’s family were seized on Nov. 27th by the US Attorney General in the course of a federal investigation into the corrupt practices of certain multinational corporations in their ongoing attempts to extract African natural resources with sumptuous bribes and money-laundering.
Madadie Touré, President Conté’s fourth wife, who received a large part of this largesse, is cooperating as a witness in the current US federal case. According to Mme. Touré, the money spigot began to flow in exchange for getting her husband to transfer contracts from one mining company to another,.
Because certain corruption cases allegedly took place on American soil, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 has been invoked. It forbids the use of bribes in business transactions, or actions involving United States soil or the American banking system.
The rights to mineral deposits of iron from Guinea’s Simandou mountain range have long been a coveted prize for foreign multinationals. The range has been called the “jewel in the crown” of the vast natural resources of West Africa.
Shortly before his death in 2008, President Conté signed mining rights to Simandou for several billion dollars to BSG Resources, held by the a trust which counts the family of billionaire Israeli Beny Steinmetz among its benficiaries. Conté had annulled the existing contracts with an Anglo-Australian firm, inciting cries of indignation.
Neither Steinmetz nor BSGR are named in the current probe. But the possibility of such prompted the Steinmetz Trust to recruit former Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, and former FBI chief, Louis Freeh, to run an internal probe of corruption allegations, according to Bloomberg News.
Meanwhile, BSGR had been divested of the Simandou concessions in April of this year when a Guinean government committee reviewing all the mining contracts signed by the preceding administration declared that it had established, “with sufficient certitude, the existence of “practices of corruption” surrounding mining concessions.
Global Witness, a group based in the United Kingdom, whose mission is “to stop elites getting away with looting entire states, from armed factions militarizing the natural resource business, and for an end to the exploitation of our environment that is destroying lives, habitats and ecosystems,” has posted a report detailing the bribery probe.
Along with billions in benefits intended for the mining operators, the advantages for the average Guinean would have been small. Extraction of bauxite at the Sangarédi mine in West Guinea, for example, led to collapse of populations of local wild species, diminution of forests, unemployment, and loss of acreage.