CONAKRY - A team of journalists followed the money, investigating Guineagate, a corruption case that involved a French national promoting the interests of a private company that sought a mining license at Simandou Mountains, the world’s largest known deposits of untapped iron.

The Simandou Mountains, located in the southeast highlands of the tiny West African Republic of Guinea, are the world’s largest known deposits of untapped iron. But the area is also known as a hub for the series of corruption cases.

Journalists Agnès Faivre and Akoumba Diallo spent several months investigating Guineagate, a corruption case that involved a French national, François Polge de Combret, a former collaborator of French President, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and an investment banker, who was also an academic friend of Guinean President Alpha Condé.

Polge de Combret is suspected of bribery, worth $10 million, for helping the Anglo-Australian multinational company, Rio Tinto, secure its mining license for the southern block of the mountain and almost half of Simandou's iron deposits. The agreement was signed in 2011 with the Government of Guinea and included a payment of $700 million.

The team analyzed in detail the intermediary role of Polge de Combret. They also kept track of how the money paid to Guinea by Rio Tinto was actually spent.

The two journalists knew that the story has already been reported by several financial media. But it hadn't reached European mainstream media yet. "In France, there was not much said about Mr. Polge de Combret, although this French former official was at the core of a corruption scandal surrounding Simandou and Rio Tinto since late 2016," said Faivre. Similarly, journalists in Guinea were unable to trace the money once it was paid to the government, she added.

The team worked meticulously to match data from leaks with leaked databases. "We found some useful documents in an ICSID arbitration case. But most of our information came from a few sources we spent quite some time to approach, " said Faivre. "For the $700 million, we used Guinean finance laws and data of the Development African Bank and the World Bank, and some documents we could get."

Team members

Agnès Faivre

Agnès Faivre is a French freelance journalist, focusing on African affairs and environmental issues.

Akoumba Diallo

Akoumba Diallo is an investigative journalist specializing in the governance of the extractive industries in Guinea.


Sylke Gruhnwald

Sylke Gruhnwald is editor-in-chief of the Swiss magazine Republik.

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