A Geneva court has begun hearing the appeal of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz against his conviction last year by a Swiss criminal court for bribery and fraud. In January 2021, Steinmetz was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 50 million Swiss francs, in what the media described as “the most significant corruption case” in the highly secretive global mining industry. The appeal is being heard by the Court of Appeals in Geneva, and in the event that Steinmetz loses the appeal, he could petition the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland to overturn his conviction.
Steinmetz, 66, who also has French citizenship, was found guilty in 2021 of “bribing senior foreign public officials” and “fraud and forgery of corporate documents,” regarding the granting of rights for one of the world’s largest iron ore mines in Guinea.
According to the court, BSGR (Beny Steinmetz Group Resources), a company registered in Geneva, worked illegally by handing bribes to Guinea President Lansana Conte and his fourth wife Mamadie Toure for the rights to a mine in the Simandou province in the early 2000s. Steinmetz stood trial together with Sandra Merloni-Horemans, a former senior executive with BSGR and Frederic Cilins, Steinmetz’s business partner. These two were also found guilty.
The appeal will be heard over the next eight days, and Steinmetz has brought in a new legal team. In his first trial he was represented by Marc Bonan, one of the leading lawyers in Geneva but he will now be represented by Daniel Kinzer and Christian Luscher. According to the Swiss media, which is closely following the case, Steinmetz attended the opening of his appeal in Geneva. He has been free to leave Switzerland, even after his conviction, because of the appeal.
The Swiss criminal court in Geneva last year rejected claims by Steimetz’s defense that he did not know about the payments to the senior Guinea figures and did not even have any official position at BSGR. The court ruled that between 2006 and 2012, Steinmetz and the company’s two aforementioned senior executives surreptitiously and illegally transferred at least $8.5 million, and probably $10 million to Mamadie Toure, the fourth wife of Guinea President Lansana Conte, who died in 2008. According to the court verdict, these funds were in exchange for the rights of the iron ore mine in Simandou province.
“Expecting the court to recognize that Beny Steinmetz did not bribe anybody”
After the death of Conte, Alpha Conde became president and he opened a comprehensive investigation into the events, which led to the legal proceedings in Geneva and the indictment against Steinmetz and BSGR’s senior executives. The investigation and legal proceedings took seven years, ending in last year’s convictions. Meanwhile, Steinmetz and Conde reached a settlement by which the African country did not sue the Israeli billionaire in Guinea, while in exchange BSGR gave up the rights to the mine in Simandou and all claims on it. Conde himself was ousted in a military coup last September.
Swiss court convicts Beny Steinmetz in Guinea bribery case
Steinmetz’s legal team has expressed confidence that the Geneva appeals court will accept the defense’s version of events that bribery was not involved. “The mining rights were taken from a rival because it was ‘just sitting on them’ and transferred to BSGR on the basis of its proven and consistent business operations, without any need to bribe a public official,” said Steinmetz’s lawyer in a release to the media.
“The list of factual errors made by the criminal court is long,” Steinmetz’s legal team told “Bloomberg.” “We are not talking about marginal details but critical components in understanding matters the way they were conducted.” The defense team insists that BSGR received the rights legally and didn’t even know Toure prior to the deal. The funds that were transferred to various entities were part of its business activities, according to the defense.
Steinmetz’s defense lawyers added that in 2021 the court accepted the prosecution’s version that Steinmetz was, “An impostor, a man without morals, a corrupter and corrupt – a portrait that does not square with reality.” “We expect the court to recognize that Beny Steinmetz did not bribe anyone,” his lawyer told the French news agency. The trial continues.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on August 30, 2022.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.