A former associate of the Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz was sentenced Friday to two years in prison for attempting to thwart a federal corruption probe in Africa.
Frédéric Cilins, the former associate, had admitted in March that he attempted to pay a witness to destroy evidence in an investigation of Steinmetz’s dealings in the Republic of Guinea.
With 15 months already served since his arrest last year, Cilins, a French citizen, could complete the sentence in another nine months.
Prosecutors had sought a much stiffer sentence of 37 to 46 months. Citing his role as the family breadwinner, Cilins had asked for his sentence to be limited to time served.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III also fined Cilins $75,000 and ordered him to forfeit $20,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
At sentencing, Cilins apologized to Pauley and to his family for the distress he had caused them, according to Reuters.
Pauley reportedly said Cilins’s crime “strikes at the very foundation of the sound administration of justice.”
William J. Schwartz, an attorney for Cilins, could not be reached.
Cilins was arrested in April last year at the airport in Jacksonville, Fla. in the presence Mamadie Touré, a cooperating witness and the widow of former Guinean President Lansana Conté.
Federal surveillance recordings captured Cilins’s apparent efforts to persuade Touré to accept promises of millions of dollars in return for her silence and for helping to destroy records sought by a Manhattan grand jury in the investigation.
“Everything I say is directly from Beny,” Cilins said, according to transcripts later released by a government panel in Guinea that cooperated with U.S. investigators.
At issue are Steinmetz’s long-running efforts to win a large slice of one of the world’s biggest iron ore concessions, valued at as much as $50 billion, according to Bloomberg.
No charges have been brought. And Steinmetz has steadfastly denied allegations that he and his company, BSG Resources Ltd., used a campaign of bribery to win mining concessions that were awarded by the Guinean government in 2008.
Cilins acted as an intermediary for BSGR in helping negotiate the company’s entry into Guinea.
BSGR and Cilins have described Touré as a would-be extortionist, and denied she was involved in their business.
However, in a video published last year by Global Witness, Cilins and Touré can be seen partying in Guinea in the presence of BSGR executives.
After fighting the charges against him for nearly a year, claiming the documents he sought to destroy were forgeries, Cilins in March abruptly entered a guilty plea.
However, since Cilins’s arrest, Steinmetz’s worries have multiplied. The Guinean government earlier this year revoked his concessions, finding that they were awarded through bribery.
The Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto in April then filed a lawsuit against its partner in the Guinea concession, Brazilian miner Vale SA, and BSGR. The suit alleges that BSGR had conspired with Vale, to steal concessions from Rio through bribery.
Rio Tinto lost its portion of the so-called Simandou concession when the local government stripped it from the company and awarded it to BSGR, which then sold a majority share to Vale.