Swiss Prosecutors Seek 5 Years for Billionaire Beny Steinmetz
Geneva prosecutors last week requested a five-year prison sentence for Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz whom they have accused of paying multi-million dollar bribes to secure lucrative mining concessions in Guinea.
The bribery charges came after a seven-year investigation into how mining company BSG Resources (BSGR) in the 2000s acquired rights to develop the vast Simandou iron ore mine in the West African country.
Steinmetz and two business associates are accused of forming a “corruption pact” in paying around US$10 million in bribes through a web of shell companies to Mamadie Touré, the widow of late President Lansana Conte, and forging documents to cover it up.
“It’s a textbook case. We have the payments, the contracts … we have all the elements,” prosecutor Yves Bertossa told the court in Geneva on Thursday.
“If we do not condemn, it will be a manual for international corruption,” he added.
But Steinmetz at trial sought to distance himself from BSGR - which stands for Beny Steinmetz Group Resources - denying knowledge of key meetings, emails and money transfers which prosecutors allege prove the rights were obtained corruptly.
“I am not BSGR,” French-speaking Steinmetz told the court. “I was an advisor.”
“I don't make a decision, it's BSGR who makes the decisions. I was only a spokesperson,” he said.
Although Steinmetz is not officially an executive director at BSGR, he is the beneficiary of Liechtenstein-based Balda Foundation, which ultimately owns shares in BSGR and prosecutors claim that he was in fact was “the true director and leader of BSGR,” according to an indictment seen by OCCRP.
Prosecutors also requested a four-year prison sentence for French national Frederic Cilins, an advisor to BSGR, and two years’ suspended sentence for Sandra Merloni-Horemans, a Belgian national who set up offshore companies through which they say BSGR channelled the bribes.
Cilins has already served two years’ jail time after a U.S. court in 2014 found him guilty of obstructing a federal investigation linked to the alleged bribery in Guinea. The French national was caught on tape offering payments to Mamadie Touré to destroy documents related to the alleged bribery.
Touré, who is believed to be living in the United States, was summoned as a witness on Wednesday but did not appear in court. Several other witnesses, including former BSGR directors, also failed to show up.
Steinmetz’s legal team has dismissed the Geneva prosecution’s accusations, telling Reuters in December that the charges had “no basis in fact or in law.”
“Beny Steinmetz never paid a cent to Mme. Mamadie Touré. Beny Steinmetz never signed forged documents,” Marc Bonnant, Steinmetz’s Geneva-based lawyer said.
BSGR’s mining rights in Guinea were revoked in 2014 after a government committee set up by Conte’s presidential successor, Alpha Condé, found that BSGR obtained the rights through bribery.