BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The chief executive of Advantage Lithium Corp, which is developing lithium projects in Argentina, has been arrested by U.S. authorities as part of a sweeping college admissions fraud scheme, according to court documents.
Authorities have charged some 50 people, including actors and business executives, in the largest college admissions fraud scheme in U.S. history, which steered students into elite universities by cheating the admissions process.
David Sidoo, 59, was arrested on March 8 and was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud for allegedly paying $200,000 to the scheme mastermind, William “Rick” Singer, to arrange for people to take the SAT admissions test for his two sons, according to U.S. court documents reviewed by Reuters.
Sidoo has run Vancouver-based Advantage Lithium since 2016.
Sidoo directed a request for comment to his attorney, Richard Schonfeld.
“We look forward to presenting our case in court, and ask that people don’t rush to judgment in the meantime,” Schonfeld said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
“Mr. Sidoo is not in custody and will be traveling to Massachusetts to appear in court as required,” he added.
Advantage Lithium is involved in several projects in Argentina, which sit on the “lithium triangle” near the border with Chile and Bolivia. Lithium is a key ingredient used to make electric vehicle batteries.
The indictment against Sidoo details incidents between 2011 and February 2019, including thousands of dollars paid to people who were flown to Canada to secretly take admissions exams in place of his sons.
Falsified test results were sent to Yale University, Georgetown University, Chapman University and University of California-Berkeley, where his younger son was accepted, the indictment said.
Sidoo, a former member of the University of British Columbia’s board of governors, is also accused of paying to help other students in Florida and California cheat on admissions exams.
The company has seen Sidoo as key to its development efforts based on his corporate track record. He built an oil producer and then sold it in 2010 for more than $600 million to Hess Corp.
An Advantage Lithium spokesman did not immediately respond to calls and emailed requests for comment.
Earlier this month, the company doubled to more than 4.8 million tonnes its estimate for the amount of recoverable lithium at its flagship Cauchari project in Argentina’s Jujuy province.
Federal prosecutors have said at least $25 million was paid by wealthy people to get their children into elite universities. Singer, 58, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges related to running the scheme through his Edge College & Career Network.
Reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Additonal reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Ernest Scheyder, Phil Berlowitz and Rosalba O'Brien