Mining Magnate Faces Accuser in Swiss Court Over Landmark Bribery Appeal

Published: 01 September 2022

Steinmetz in Geneva

Beny Steinmetz (C) leaves a court in Geneva. (Photo: Daniel Balint-Kurti, OCCRP, All Rights Reserved)

By Daniel Balint-Kurti

The key accuser in a case against mining magnate Beny Steinmetz began testifying on Thursday in Geneva over his claim he moved bribe money for the Israeli businessman. Steinmetz is facing five years in prison for bribery related to his company’s 2008 acquisition of iron ore mining rights in the West African nation of Guinea.

The testimony comes a day after Steinmetz himself took the stand in his appeal against the landmark conviction and told Geneva’s Court of Appeal he “never corrupted anyone.”

Prosecutors say Steinmetz and his partners bribed Mamadie Touré, the wife of the late Lansana Conté, Guinea’s ailing president at the time, for her help in securing the world’s most coveted iron ore license for BSGR, Steinmetz’s company.

Steinmetz was cross-examined by Judge Catherine Gavin and Genevan prosecutors for several hours on Wednesday. He reiterated claims he was the victim of a plot by Conté’s successor, President Alpha Condé and billionaire financier George Soros.

“I believe with all my force that BSGR never crossed the red line,” he said and complained that it has now become “difficult to work with banks” and, far from earning billions, his annual revenues were “closer to $2 million than $3 billion”.

But Ofer Kerzner, a fellow Israeli and former business partner of Steinmetz, has testified that Steinmetz paid him nine million Euros ($12.5 million) for a bogus land transaction in Romania, which was a pretext to send him cash to be dispersed according to Steinmetz’s instructions.

At least $1.5 million of the funds is alleged to have been paid out to Mamadie Touré in return for her help in obtaining the iron ore rights.

A series of contracts show Touré assisted BSGR in winning the rights just weeks before Conté’s death. Steinmetz questions the authenticity of some of the contracts, denies all bribery allegations and has argued that Touré was not married to Conté.

“I have personally suffered for ten years for what has happened,” he told the courtroom on Wednesday. “Everyone can understand how hard this process has been on me and my wife, on my friends and everybody around me… But for me there is one main thing — that the truth comes out.”

In May this year, an International Center for Settlement of Investments Disputes (ICSID) arbitration panel ruled that “there is overwhelming evidence that [BSGR] obtained their mining rights through corrupt practices.” The ruling put an end to an arbitral claim which BSGR launched against Guinea in 2014.

But on August 23, BSGR filed for an annulment of the tribunal’s final award. Details of BSGR’s filing have yet to be made public.