By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Guinea government minister was convicted on Wednesday of laundering $8.5 million in bribes that U.S. prosecutors say he took in exchange for helping a Chinese conglomerate secure mining rights.
Jurors in federal court in Manhattan convicted Mahmoud Thiam, 50, of one count of money laundering and one count of engaging in transactions in property with a criminal source.
The case is one of several corruption cases around the world tied to Guinea's mining sector.
Aaron Goldsmith, Thiam's lawyer, said he would move to overturn the conviction.
"We are deeply disappointed," he said, adding that Thiam maintains his innocence.
Thiam, a U.S. citizen, testified during the trial that he returned to his native Guinea in 2009 to serve as minister of mines after working for years as an investment banker in New York.
Prosecutors sought to prove that Thiam took bribes from Chinese tycoon Sam Pa, and that in exchange Thiam helped secure lucrative mining rights in Guinea for a joint venture of the China International Fund and China Sonangol, closely tied to Pa.
The prosecutors presented bank records showing that Thiam opened a bank account in Hong Kong to receive the money and later wired it to the United States. They said he used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including a mansion north of New York City and private schools for his children.
Thiam admitted on the witness stand that he had taken money from Pa, but said it was a personal loan. He said there was no written agreement, interest or due date for the loan, and that he never repaid it.
Thiam also admitted that he lied repeatedly to banks about the source of the money and concealed the fact that he was a government minister in Guinea.
Nonetheless, Thiam said he never abused his position as a government official in exchange for the money.
"While there was a lot of evidence brought in about bank records and transactions, the root of the case lies in whether or not there was a bribery, for which there was absolutely zero evidence," Goldsmith, Thiam's lawyer, told reporters after the verdict.
Thiam is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 11 by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)