French-Israeli tycoon convicted of multimillion-dollar mining bribe involving former first lady

Diamond trader Beny Steinmetz was ordered to pay a $50 million fine in relation to the deals in Guinea

epa08958523 French-Israeli businessman and diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz (L) leaves court with lawyer Marc Bonnant (R), after his verdict in Geneva, Switzerland, 22 January 2021. The court sentenced Steinmetz to five years prison for corruption linked to mining rights deals in Guinea. His lawyer said the ruling will be appealed.  EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI
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A French-Israeli diamond tycoon has been convicted of corruption charges linked to mining rights deals in Guinea and multimillion-dollar bribes to the wife of the African country’s former president.

Beny Steinmetz was sentenced to five years in prison after he and two colleagues were convicted of paying $8.5 million to Mamadie Toure, the widow of Lansana Conte.

The money was meant to help secure rights to Guinea’s Simandou iron ore mine, the court in Geneva, Switzerland, heard.

Steinmetz’s investments in African mining have sparked previous investigations but this is his first conviction.

His lawyers argued he had only met Ms Toure once and never ordered anyone to pay her.

That argument was rejected by Judge Alexandra Banna and the two other judges.

“The fact that Steinmetz wasn’t aware of all details doesn’t change a thing,” the judge ruled. “Steinmetz had his hand on the payments and was able to oversee the bribery process.”

Steinmetz, 64, was also ordered to pay a $50m fine.
Two other defendants in the case, a French businessman and a Belgian administrator of companies controlled by Steinmetz, were also found guilty of corruption.

Defence lawyer Marc Bonnant said he would appeal the court ruling, calling it a “big injustice” and criticising the use of Ms Toure as a co-operating witness.

Steinmetz “never took part in a bribery pact”, Mr Bonnant said. “There was never any consideration given to the fragility of the testimony of the crown witnesses.”

He was referring principally to Ms Toure, who co-operated with a US investigation into the Guinea project. Mr Steinmetz said her pretrial evidence contained “lies”.

The plot, dating to the mid-2000s, involved Steinmetz’s BSGR Group squeezing out a rival for mining rights for vast iron ore deposits in Guinea’s south-eastern Simandou region.

The Geneva prosecutor’s office alleged that Steinmetz and two other defendants engaged in the corruption of foreign officials and falsification of documents to hide the paying of bribes from authorities and banks.

Some of the funds allegedly transited through Switzerland, and the case has been investigated in Europe, Africa and the US.

The prosecutor’s office said that starting in 2005, Steinmetz crafted a pact of corruption with Mr Conte, who ruled the West African country from 1984 until his death in 2008, and his fourth wife, Mamadie Toure, involving the payment of nearly $10m.

In its court filing, the prosecutor’s office said BSGR won exploration and exploitation licences in Guinea between 2006 and 2010 in the Simandou region, and its competitor, Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto, was “deprived between July and December 2008 of concessions it had up to then held in the Simandou North blocs 1 and 2”.

Swiss transparency group Public Eye said Steinmetz employed “opaque structures” to hide the schemes that were managed from Geneva, where he lived until 2016.

The group said the case showed how tax havens can be used to conceal questionable, “even illegal” activities in countries with weak leadership and regulation.