Dec. 1 (GIN) – In the bad old days, natural resources were bartered away with trinkets and a few suitcases filled with cash.
The West African nation of Guinea, under a new president, is now trying to clean up the mess left by the previous regime by cancelling lucrative mining contracts allegedly bought in exchange for a diamond necklace, houses in Jacksonville, Florida, $5.3 million in cold cash, two Toyota Land Cruisers, an ice cream cooler, grills and some display cases for a catering business.
The gifts, lavished on the family of Guinea’s former head of state, Lansana Conté, were seized last week by the U.S. Justice Department as part of a federal investigation into the corrupt practices of some multinationals still attempting to cart away Africa’s natural resources through lavish bribes and money laundering.
President Conte’s fourth wife, Mamadie Toure, who received much of the largess, is a cooperating witness in the current federal case. According to Madame Toure, in exchange for getting her president husband to transfer contracts from one mining company to another, the money tap was turned full on.
Because some of the alleged bribery took place on U.S. soil, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was invoked. It prohibits the payment of bribes to win business, or when the conduct involves U.S. soil or the U.S. banking system.
Rights to iron ore deposits in Guinea’s Simandou mountain range – have been a long sought-after prize by foreign multinationals. It’s been called the “jewel in the crown” of West Africa’s vast natural resources.
Shortly before his death in 2008, President Conté signed over multi-billion-dollar mining rights at Simandou to BSG Resources, owned by family trusts of the Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz. He canceled existing contracts with an Anglo-Australian firm prompting cries of outrage by that firm.
Neither Steinmetz nor his company BSGR are named in the current probe. But the possibility of such prompted Steinmetz Trust to hire former Senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman and former FBI head Louis Freeh to run an internal probe of the bribery allegations, a source told Bloomberg news.
Meanwhile, BSGR was stripped of the Simandou concessions in April this year when a Guinean government committee reviewing all mining contracts signed with the previous government, said it had established “with sufficient certainty the existence of ‘corrupt practices’ surrounding the granting of mining rights.”
Global Witness, a UK-based group which campaigns “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 an extensive report on the bribe probe.
While billions in profits are seen for mining operators, benefits for ordinary Guinean could be small. Bauxite mining at the Sangaredi Mine in western Guinea, for example, has led to a collapse in local wildlife populations, dwindling forests, unemployment and landlessness. w/pix of Mme. Toure at a party with BSGR