Beny Steinmetz In Swiss Trial Over Guinea Contract
In Switzerland, a billionaire French-Israeli diamond magnate, Beny Steinmetz, has come to court to face trial over alleged corruption related to Guinea’s big mining contract.
His company, BSGR has always denied paying multi-million dollar bribes to secure iron ore mining exploration permits in 2008 in southern Guinea.
For the two-week trial, he had traveled from Israel to Geneva.
He could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
Steinmetz, 64, had previously been sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for money laundering by a court in Romania.
Swiss prosecutors suspect that Steinmetz paid around $10 million (£7.4 million) in bribes, partially through Swiss bank accounts, to secure the rights to the iron ore deposits of Guinea in the Simandou Mountains.
The region is known to contain the greatest untapped reserves of iron ore in the world.
“We will plead his innocence” his lawyer, Marc Bonnant said.
According to investigators, with the assistance of Mamadie Toure, the wife of former Guinean President Lansana Conte, bribes were paid to Guinean public officials. They also say that Steinmetz falsified documents related to the contract.
According to Imogen Foulkes of the BBC in Geneva, they said Ms. Toure has been identified as the prosecution’s star witness, but her appearance in court is doubtful – she is now living in the United States, and the trial has not yet been commented on by her.
Last month, Mr. Bonnant told Reuters that Steinmetz had “never paid a cent to Mme Mamadie Toure” and said that she was not married to Lansana Conte. “She is not a public agent and therefore cannot be corrupted, he said.
In exchange for an investment of about $160 million, Steinmetz acquired the rights, but then he sold half of them to the Brazilian multinational mining firm, Vale, for $2.5 billion 18 months later, making a huge profit.
It was referred to in the financial press at the time as a “jackpot” deal. But it also posed concerns as to why the original rights were so cheaply granted.
At that time, Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese telecommunications billionaire and anti-corruption activist, asked, “Are the Guineans dealing with idiots or criminals, or both?”
Steinmetz still maintained that he had done nothing wrong. He told the Financial Times in a rare interview in 2012 that “people don’t like success” and it was natural to seek “opportunities in an aggressive way”
In 2014, the government of Guinea stripped BSGR of its mining rights, alleging reports of wrongdoing that the firm refuted.