March 24, 2009 / 2:09 PM / 10 years ago

Guinea charges former mines ministers with graft

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea’s ruling military junta has detained three former mines ministers on charges of embezzling money from state mining funds, a senior police official in the West African country said on Tuesday.

Guinea's former Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare arrives in Yamoussoukro, November 18, 2008. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/Files

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who promised to fight corruption when he seized power in the world’s biggest bauxite exporter in December, has been swift to attack those associated with the government of former President Lansana Conte, whose death ushered in the military takeover.

“The former prime minister, Ahmed Tidiane Souare, and the former mines ministers, Louceny Nabe and Ousmane Sylla, have been placed in detention in prison,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The three were detained in Conakry on Monday, he said. Souare served as mines minister between 2005 and 2006 but was prime minister when Camara’s group seized power.

Mining is a pillar of the Guinean economy, and many international resources firms, such as Rio Tinto Alcoa and Rusal, have operations there.

Camara told AngloGold Ashanti to halt work at its Siguiri mine last week after a director failed to attend a mining forum, though the firm said on Tuesday it had restarted work there after a meeting with Camara.

RAPID FIRE CAMARA

Earlier this month the junta’s audit committee used a television broadcast to accuse former mines ministers Ahmed Tidiane Souare, Ousmane Sylla, Ahmed Kante and Louceny Nabe of embezzling around $5.3 million in total.

At the time, Souare said he had taken money from a designated mining development fund, but used it only to pay for the day-to-day running of the ministry.

Those accusations came less than a month after security forces detained the former president’s son, whose confession of involvement in drug smuggling was also televised.

Camara has popular support for his anti-graft stance, but analysts are worried about political instability in Guinea.

Think tank International Crisis Group said earlier this month that Camara’s inexperienced administration was at risk of resorting to authoritarian measures, and disgruntled officers excluded from government may threaten a counter-coup.

Camara suspended two of his ministers as a punishment for non-attendance at the mining forum’s opening ceremony last week, and later suspended another minister without explanation.

The official was unable to confirm whether Ahmed Kante, sacked as mines minister last August, was also in detention.

“They have all been questioned about the management of mining funds in their capacity as former mining ministers. Charges have been brought against them and justice must be done,” the police official said of the three detainees.

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