Meet Olivier Couriol, the Swiss banker behind the Malian Airbus scandal

Frenchman at the heart of opaque transactions to funnel cash to defunct gold mine, shortly before winning military helicopter contract

Olivier Couriol

When multinational aviation and defence giant Airbus invested in a small gold mine in Mali, alarm bells should have started ringing. Why would a company, in which the German and French states hold 11% each, need to diversify from prestigious planes, helicopters and satellites to a small gold mine that had so far produced hardly any results? And why did Airbus try to hide it?

In 2012, the Toulouse-based company invested €15m in the Kodieran gold deposit in southern Mali. It is owned by controversial French-Malian businessman Aliou Diallo through his company Wassoul’or, in which listed German company Pearl Gold owns 25%. But Airbus did not transfer the funds directly, but into Pearl Gold.

Olivier Couriol is a director of Pearl Gold as well as a host of off-shore investment funds. According to Mediapart, the Airbus money went to Martagon Investments Limited in Abu Dhabi, Matterhorn Fund and Sequoia Diversified Growth Fund in the British Virgin Islands. Couriol manages all three vehicles.

In 2015, Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is a close friend of Diallo, ordered two second-hand Super Puma helicopters as well as freight aircraft from Airbus. In March 2016, French prosecutors started to investigate the deal, wondering if Airbus paid a bride via Pearl Gold and Diallo to the Malian government to obtain the contract.

In 2016, the gold mine was still not functioning and Pearl Gold went financial difficulties, although in January this year, the share price rallied following the appointment of Couriol as a director.

Sources believe the gold mine could be a swindle set up by Couriol and Diallo to attract naïve investors with lucrative investment opportunities that never come to fruition. Airbus may have used the Pearl Gold for its own purposes.

The French public prosecution is still investigating and may stay on Couriol’s heels for quite some time. During a search at Couriol’s flat in April 2016, the team of Swiss prosecutor Claudio Mascotto, who leads the Airbus/Pearl Gold investigation in this country, found an apparently abandoned suitcase by Emeka Obi, a Nigerian sought in Italy on suspicion of international corruption. The suitcase contains some 41,000 computer files, which could lead to secretive purchases of off-shore drilling opportunities in Africa. Obi is suspected of having acted as an intermediary for Italian group ENI in the purchase of the OPL 245 oil licence in Nigeria, which holds an estimated 9.23 billion barrels of crude oil. When questioned about the suitcase, Couriol admitted to knowing Obi since 2014.

There is more. Olivier Couriol has been indicted of money-laundering and complicity in looting funds from former Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Couriol was on the defence bench alongside former employees of Credit Suisse, Patrice Lescaudron and Michel Carcassonne. At a court hearing in May 2016, prosecutor Yves Bertossa had Couriol’s Rolex seized “to guarantee the reimbursement of damage caused”.

For Olivier Couriol, the party may soon be over.