Tackling tycoons

Guinea: Benny Steinmetz loses appeal in Swiss corruption case

By The Africa Report

Posted on April 5, 2023 14:44

French-Israeli mining tycoon Benny Steinmetz largely lost on Tuesday his appeal in Switzerland against a 2021 corruption verdict linked to mining rights in Guinea.

Steinmetz immediately announced he would now take the case to Switzerland’s highest court after his setback at the Geneva Court of Appeals.

In a statement, his team said he believed “he will be completely cleared of all charges”.

Two years ago, a lower court found Steinmetz guilty of setting up a complex financial web to pay bribes to ensure his company could obtain permits in Guinea’s southeastern Simandou region. The area is estimated to contain the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposits.

The appeals court upheld most of the findings against him, finding him guilty of corrupting foreign public servants, but clearing him of the charge of forgery.

The 67-year-old businessman, who made his fortune in diamonds, was sentenced by the appeals court to three years in prison, with half of that sentence suspended.

That was well below the five-year sentence he was handed after his first trial, but the appeals judges confirmed the lower court ruling that he should pay 50 million Swiss francs ($52m) in compensation. Two of his alleged co-conspirators were given shorter jail terms.

“All three, in complementary roles, are guilty of corrupting foreign public agents by influencing the mining rights attribution process in the Simandou region,” the appeals court said in a statement.

In his statement, Steinmetz said: “The Geneva Court of Appeal failed to do justice”, describing its decision as “iniquitous”.

“Benny Steinmetz considers that the Geneva justice system turned a blind eye to procedural flaws, stretched the rules of jurisdiction, compensated for the lack of evidence, and misused the penal code to save a conviction that it did not dare to dismiss,” the statement said.

Pact of corruption

Steinmetz, who lives in Israel, will not serve any prison time until the appeals process has been exhausted.

During the appeals trial, the prosecutors doubled down on the picture painted during the original trial of Steinmetz – elaborating on the charge that he bribed the wife of then-Guinean president Lansana Conte and others in order to win lucrative mining rights in Simandou.

Benny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) obtained the rights – which had been stripped from mining giant Rio Tinto – shortly before Conte died in 2008 after about $10m was allegedly paid in bribes over a number of years through different channels.

BSGR received the rights against an investment of $160m, but 18 months later sold 51% of its stake in the concession to Vale of Brazil for $2.5bn.

In 2013, Guinean president Alpha Conde reviewed the permits allotted under Conte and stripped the VBG consortium formed by BSGR and Vale of its permit.

Prosecutors claimed Steinmetz and his associates entered a “pact of corruption” with Conte and his fourth wife Mamadie Toure to obtain the exploration rights. The appeals court ruled he had paid her $8.5m.

Steinmetz’s defence maintained there was nothing inappropriate about how BSGR obtained the permits, and that Rio Tinto lost half the concessions for failing to develop them.

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