GENEVA (AP) — Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz is back in a Geneva court on Monday to appeal his conviction on charges of corrupting foreign public officials and forging documents, a case linked to his company’s bid to scoop up the rich iron ore resources in the West African country of Guinea.
The man considered by some to be Israel’s richest man was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 50 million Swiss francs ($51.5 million) in a lower court ruling in January 2021. Two other defendants received lesser sentences.
The case centered on alleged payments of millions to a former wife of Guinea’s late president, Lansana Conte, and exposed the shadowy and complicated world of deal-making and intense competition in the lucrative mining business.
The appeal is expected to be concluded
Steinmetz will be without top Geneva lawyer Marc Bonnant, who is no longer representing the billionaire. The lawyer had previously argued that Steinmetz had not given “a single dollar” to any official in the Guinean regime under Conte.
Supporters of the Israeli tycoon insist the lower court did not fully understand the facts of the case and believe the court wanted to set an example that Switzerland — which has had a reputation over the years for secretive financial dealings — can ask financial kings when necessary.
After the verdict, Swiss transparency group Public Eye hailed a “landmark decision” that showed the court could see through an “elegant” legal defence.
Steinmetz, 66, denied the charges and was released pending an appeal.
The Geneva prosecutor’s office alleged that Steinmetz, a former Geneva resident, and the two other defendants were involved in corrupting foreign officials and falsifying documents to hide the payment of bribes from authorities and banks. Some of the funds allegedly passed through Switzerland – and the case has been investigated in Europe, Africa and the United States.
The plot, which dates back to the mid-2000s, involved Steinmetz’s BSGR Group poaching a rival for mining rights to huge iron ore deposits in Guinea’s southeastern Simandou region.
The prosecutor’s office said Steinmetz, starting in 2005, drew up a corruption pact with Conte, who ruled the West African country from 1984 until his death in 2008, and his fourth wife, Mamadi Toure, that involved the nearly $10 million payout.
He has been cooperating with prosecutors in the United States in connection with the case.
In its court filing, the prosecution said BSGR won exploration and exploitation licenses in Guinea between 2006 and 2010 in the Simandou area, while its rival — Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto — was stripped of mining rights at two sites it held. are held in the area.
Steinmetz’s defense team says a mountain range in the region contains some of the world’s largest untapped deposits of iron ore, and the unrest has squelched any hope of harvesting them – and offers a potential windfall for a poor country. They say BSGR was the first company to study the feasibility of mining iron ore in the area.