A Geneva public prosecutor has indicted diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz (pictured) for allegedly bribing officials in Guinea to obtain a license to mine cobalt.
The prosecutor, Claudio Mascotto, also brought charges against two other unnamed individuals.
Mascotto charges that the three defendants paid approximately $10 million in bribes to Mamadie Touré, one of the wives of former Guinean president Lansana Conté, to insure that Steinmetz’s company, BSG Resources (BSGR), won the rights to mine iron ore in the Simandou region.
The prosecutor notes that Steinmetz resides in Switzerland, and some of the alleged bribes were transacted through Swiss accounts.
The prosecutor also accused the three defendants of manufacturing false contracts and false invoices to hide the bribes from banks and authorities.
A spokesperson for BSGR declined comment. However, Steinmetz’s lawyer Marc Bonnant told The Times of Israel: “Beny Steinmetz denies any wrongdoing. He has done that since the beginning of the proceeding. He never sent a single dollar to any official of the Guinea regime under Lansana Conté—neither to the president nor to his wife or to his mistress or to anybody.”
The right to mine iron ore in Simandou has been the subject of a series of court battles that have pitted Steinmetz against mining giant Rio Tinto, which formerly owned rights to the area; Brazilian mining giant Vale, Steinmetz’s onetime partner in the project; and the government of Guinea, which sought in 2014 to cancel BSGR’s claim.
BSGR has also sued Global Witness, a frequent Steinmetz critic, as well as George Soros, who has backed Global Witness as well as several other anti-corruption groups. The suit against Global Witness was dismissed; the suit against Soros has been adjourned, pending resolution of related litigation.
The issues have also played out in the United States. In 2014, Frederic Cilins, who was described as an associate of Steinmetz, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to obstructing a criminal investigation, after he admitted telling Touré to destroy alleged evidence of bribery. Steinmetz has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the incident.
The saga has also brought embarrassment for Rio Tinto, after allegations arose that it made a $10 million payment to a consultant friend of Guinea’s president. The allegations led to the departure of Rio Tinto director of minerals Alan Davies, who also headed the company’s diamond mining division. Davies has denied any violations of company procedures.
In February, BSGR reached a settlement with Guinea’s government on its rights to two mining blocks in Simandou, in a deal reportedly brokered by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. A statement said a group advised by Steinmetz would focus on a smaller deposit.
Steinmetz’s family diamond business, formerly known as the Steinmetz Group, is now known as Diacor International and is a De Beers sightholder.
A spokesperson said, “BSGR has had no involvement with Diacor or the family diamond businesses since 2012.”
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