A former adviser to a mining company controlled by Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz has admitted obstructing a criminal investigation into allegations that Guinean government officials were bribed into awarding lucrative mining rights.
Frederic Cilins, a 51-year-old French national, changed his not guilty plea to admit a superseding indictment in New York
on Monday, the latest twist in an international saga surrounding one of the world's largest untapped iron ore deposits.
According to the indictment Cilins agreed to pay a witness to hand over or destroy documents sought by the FBI in their
investigation of the bribery allegations.
Cilins had approached Mamadie Touré, a widow of Guinea's former president Lansana Conté, at her home in Jacksonville, Florida. But unbeknown to him she was co-operating with investigators, who
recorded their conversations.
On Monday, through a French interpreter, Cilins also told the judge that he had promised Touré money to leave the US "to avoid
answering questions by the FBI".
A statement from the US department of justice (DoJ) said: "Cilins pleaded guilty to a one-count superseding information, which alleges that Cilins agreed
to pay money to induce a witness to destroy, or provide to him for destruction, documents sought by the FBI. According to the superseding information, those documents related to allegations
concerning thepayment of bribes to obtain mining
concessions in the Simandou region of the Republic of Guinea."
Cilins, who now faces four years in prison, was arrested last April as part of a US investigation into alleged illegal
payments made to Guinean officials to secure mining rights for Steinmetz's BSG Resources (BSGR).
A BSGR spokesman said: "As we have been saying all along, no one at BSGR has done anything wrong."
The DoJ's statement added: "Court documents allege that the documents Cilins sought to destroy included original copies of
contracts between the mining company and its affiliates and the former wife of a now-deceased Guinean government official, who at the relevant time held an office in Guinea that allowed him to
influence the award of mining concessions.
"The contracts allegedly related to a scheme by which the mining company and its affiliates offered the wife of the Guinean
official millions of dollars, which were to be distributed to the official's wife as well as ministers or senior officials of Guinea's government whose authority might be needed to secure the
The guilty plea comes several days after Reuters reported that a technical committee in Guinea had recommended that its
governmentstrip the mining rights from BSGR and its partner, Brazilian iron ore mining company Vale, because, the
committee said, BSGR had obtained the concession in 2008 through corruption.
BSGR acquired the concession in 2008 and sold 51% of its Guinean assets to Vale in 2010 to create a joint venture.
BSGR vigorously denied the allegations of wrongdoing and said it believed the committee was implementing an orchestrated
plan to expropriate the company's mining rights.