SEpt years after the opening of the investigation, the Swiss justice sentenced Friday, January 22 the Franco-Israeli magnate Beny Steinmetz, 64, to five years in prison for bribing public officials in Guinea in a mining rights case . “It emerges from what has been exposed … that the concessions were obtained by corruption and that Steinmetz collaborated with other people” in order to obtain them, declared the president of the Geneva Criminal Court, Alexandra Banna, in pointing to the “eminently selfish motives” of the businessman. The court “condemns him to a custodial sentence of five years”, she added, following the request of the prosecution. He was also ordered to pay a compensatory claim (a form of compensation) of 50 million Swiss francs (46 million euros) to the State of Geneva. “I take note of this decision which I find unfair, and which I immediately appeal”, declared Beny Steinmetz to Agence France-Presse, which remains “completely combative and confident”. “This decision absolutely does not reflect what the 6 days of hearing revealed: there is no pact or act of corruption”. “I denounce 10 years of manipulation and lies, an investigation carried out only on charges and in violation of the rights of the defense,” he added.
For the NGO Public Eye, which denounces the injustices having their origin in Switzerland, this case constitutes a “real plunge into the mechanisms of international corruption, against the backdrop of Guinea, one of the poorest countries of the country. planet ”.
The result of a long international investigation
The trial, which took place from January 11 to 18, is the culmination of a long international investigation launched in 2013 in Switzerland and relating to mining permits granted in Guinea to Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR), in which the diamond dealer has the title of advisor. The latter obtained in 2008, shortly before the death of former Guinean President Lansana Conté, the right to mine blocks 1 and 2 of one of the largest iron deposits in the world at Simandou, where he invested 170 millions of dollars. It has since sold 51% to the Brazilian group Vale, for 2.5 billion. According to the Geneva public prosecutor’s office, Beny Steinmetz would have promised in 2005, then paid or had paid, from 2006 to 2012, bribes, some of which would have passed through Swiss accounts, to the fourth wife of former President Conté, Mamadie Touré, in exchange for these mining rights in this poor African country. Key figure in this case, Mme Touré admitted to having received payments and has since been protected by American justice. Summoned as a witness in Geneva, she did not appear at trial, like a dozen other defense witnesses.
Beny Steinmetz more than a group advisor
Beny Steinmetz was accused by the prosecution of having set up a financial package via front companies in order to pay around 10 million dollars (8.2 million euros) in bribes to Mr.me Touré, so that BSGR supplants the Anglo-Australian group Rio Tinto in blocks 1 and 2. The president of the tribunal noted that “the money paid to Mamadie Touré does indeed come from BSGR” and that “President Conté had no interest in withdrawing rights from Rio Tinto… if not to withdraw a personal interest or favor a third party, in this case his fourth wife ”. Beny Steinmetz, who was residing in Geneva when the facts alleged against him took place, assured during the trial that he “never” asked anyone to pay funds to Mr.me Touré, and accused her of telling “lies”. According to the defense, the latter was not the wife of former President Conté, but a mistress exerting no influence. But for the president of the tribunal, Mamadie Touré was indeed “the fourth wife of President Conté, regardless of whether it was a customary marriage”. During the trial, the Franco-Israeli businessman sought to minimize his role, ensuring that he was only an “adviser” within BSGR, little aware of financial details. A vision rejected by the Geneva court, whose president notably underlined that it emerges from a 2007 meeting that “Steinmetz knows all of the group’s projects and is very involved” in financial matters.
Guinea not involved
After years of legal battle, Beny Steinmetz and the new Guinean presidency of Alpha Condé reached an agreement in early 2019 that BSGR waive rights to Simandou in exchange for dropping the corruption charges in Guinea. Beny Steinmetz was on trial alongside two business partners, including Frenchman Frédéric Cilins, who, in 2014, was sentenced to 2 years in prison in the United States for obstructing justice in this case. According to FBI records cited by the Geneva prosecutor, he pledged several million dollars to Mr.me Touré in exchange for the destruction of certain compromising documents. He was sentenced Thursday to 3.5 years in prison and to pay a compensatory claim of 5 million Swiss francs.