On Friday, a Swiss court indicted French-Israeli mining magnate Benny Steinmetz on charges of corrupting foreign public officials and forging documents, in a trial over his successful attempt to harvest the luxurious iron ore resources in the West African country of Guinea.
Mr. Steinmetz, one of the wealthiest people in Israel, was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $ 56.5 million.
The Issue It centered on alleged multimillion-dollar payments to the ex-wife of former Guinea’s president, Lansana Conte, who died in 2008. The trial revealed a mysterious and complex world of dealmaking and fierce competition in lucrative mining.
His lawyer, Mark Bonant, said he would appeal “immediately”. Mr. Bonant said that his client did not offer “one dollar” to any official in the Guinea system during Mr. Conte’s presidency.
Attorney General Yves Bertossa told reporters that he was “satisfied” with the ruling, and the Swiss public transparency group Public Eye praised the “historic ruling”.
“This conviction of a high-profile commercial figure not only sends a strong signal to the commodities sector as a whole, but also demonstrates the vital need for Switzerland to address the legal loopholes that allow for such predatory practices,” she said.
Mr Steinmetz, 64, has denied accusations dating back to the mid-2000s that his company, BSG Resources, pressured a competitor to obtain mining rights in the massive iron ore deposits in the Simandou region of Guinea.
The Geneva Prosecutor’s Office alleged that Mr. Steinmetz and other defendants were involved in corruption by foreign officials and forging documents to conceal the payment of bribes from authorities and banks. Some of the money allegedly moved through Switzerland – and the case was investigated in Europe, Africa, and the United States.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said that, beginning in 2005, Mr Steinmetz had drawn up a corruption pact with Mr Conte, who ruled the West African country from 1984 until his death, and his fourth wife, Mamadi Touré, which includes payment of nearly $ 10 million. .
In the court file, the Prosecutor’s Office said that BSG Resources won exploration and exploitation licenses in Guinea between 2006 and 2010 in the Simando region, and that its competitor – the Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto – was denied the privileges it had held until then in that area. .
In 2014, after a review launched by the democratically elected president, Alpha Conde, the Guinean government accused Mr. Steinmetz’s company of corruption and paid millions of dollars through a representative of Mrs. Touré.
Civil society organizations have lobbied for proposals that would add accountability to companies headquartered in Switzerland for their actions abroad. One of these proposals, which would have held companies in Switzerland accountable for human rights violations and environmental damage committed by subsidiaries abroad, failed to Referendum last year.