Cypriot Court Rules to Extradite Mining Magnate Beny Steinmetz to Romania

Published: 11 October 2023

Beny Steinmetz Cyprus LarnacaBeny Steinmetz (left) outside the court in Larnaca, Cyprus, after a judge ordered his extradition to Romania. Steinmetz plans to appeal. (Photo: Christodoulos Mavroudis, OCCRP)

By Christodoulos Mavroudis

A Cyprus court ruled on Wednesday to extradite mining entrepreneur Beny Steinmetz to Romania, where he has been sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring with the grandson of the former king and others to corruptly obtain former royal lands worth over US$100 million.

Steinmetz’s representatives, however, said they would appeal the decision to the country’s Supreme Court. Judge Michalis Michael said Steinmetz would be held in detention until his extradition or the filing of an appeal, as there was a risk of his fleeing justice.

Cypriot police had arrested Steinmetz, 67, at Larnaca airport on August 31, on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Romania after his conviction for forming “an organized criminal group.” Romania’s supreme court found him guilty in December 2020.

After his initial arrest, Steinmetz, an Israeli citizen and resident, was freed on a one-million-euro bail, but was confined to the island and had to report every day to a local police station, according to a spokesman for the Cypriot police. Steinmetz, unshaven and dressed in a blue suit, was again placed under arrest after today’s court decision.

The lead lawyer for Steinmetz, Elias Stefanou, had asked the court that he be freed from detention, under the same conditions applied during the past six weeks. Stefanou cited Steinmetz’s philanthropic activities and compassion for the conflict in Israel in his request.

“It is a given he will appeal,” Stefanou told the judge. Alexia Bakoyannis, a spokeswoman for Steinmetz, told OCCRP at the courtroom: "We will appeal immediately and we will be vindicated."

Over ten days of hearings, Steinmez’s legal team argued that his right to a fair trial in Romania had been violated due to the alleged illegal use of wiretap material, and that one of the supreme court justices had never taken her oath of office. Steinmetz’s lawyers also accused the Romanian judges of anti-Semitism, and argued that extradition would breach his human rights, due to inhumane prison conditions in Romania. The businessman has denied the allegations of criminality in Romania.

Romania’s justice ministry said on Wednesday that it had provided guarantees that prison conditions in the country complied with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Cyprus ruling came despite previous victories for Steinmetz in battles over Romania’s extradition attempts. In November 2021, he was arrested in Athens on the basis of the same European Arrest Warrant, but was allowed to leave the following March when the Athens Court of Appeal ruled against his extradition. The Athens court accepted that Romanian jail conditions were inhumane, and that one of the Romanian supreme court’s three justices - Florentina Dragomir - had not properly taken her oath as a judge, according to a translation of the judgment seen by OCCRP.

Interpol also canceled a “red notice” arrest warrant for Steinmetz in October 2021, when a committee found there were doubts over the legality of wiretap evidence prosecutors had gathered.

In Romania on Monday, however, a five-judge panel at the supreme court in Bucharest dismissed a fresh attempt to have all the defendants, including Steinmetz, exonerated over the property scandal. A company indirectly owned by Steinmetz, Reciplia SRL, had joined several of his co-defendants in filing the case.

The Cypriot ruling comes as Steinmetz awaits the decision of Switzerland’s supreme court in a separate corruption case, over some of the world’s most important mining rights.

Geneva’s appeals court upheld his bribery conviction on that matter in April last year, issuing a 365-page judgment detailing corruption by his company Beny Steinmetz Group Resources in obtaining iron ore deposits worth several billion dollars in Guinea, West Africa. He was sentenced to 18 months jail-time, plus an 18-month suspended sentence, but appealed immediately. No date has been given for the Swiss court’s verdict.