BUSINESSMAN BENY STEINMETZ (center) shares a light moment with former defense minister Ehud Barak (left) and former Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer in 2007..
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)
Diamond-mining tycoon Beny Steinmetz, who was detained by police on Monday for questioning in regard to suspected corruption and bribery in the African country of Guinea, is the co-founder of the Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR), which is at the center of an international bribery investigation.
He was born in Netanya to Rubin Steinmetz, a prominent diamond dealer with offices in Switzerland and Belgium. Steinmetz moved to Belgium in 1978 to run his father’s international diamond business, the Steinmetz Diamond Group (SDG).
Following his father’s death, Steinmetz inherited the Geneva-based company, which he then chaired. In 2010, SDG was the largest buyer of rough diamonds for the international De Beers diamond group. In 2014, Steinmetz sold his shares in SDG to his brother, Daniel, to focus solely on BSGR.
BSGR, which Steinmetz founded in 1998, is headquartered in the known tax shelter of Guernsey Island.
The company is an international resources and power conglomerate with a heavy presence in Africa and the developing world.
The bulk of BSGR activities currently focuses around the mining of diamonds, copper, iron ore and gold. The company also engages in the exploration, development and production of resources.
In 2011, Forbes listed Steinmetz as the 162nd richest man in the world, with a personal wealth of more than $6 billion, while Bloomberg estimated his personal wealth at $9b.
According to The New Yorker, the corporate structures of his various enterprises are so convoluted that it is difficult to assess the true extent of his holdings. For example, on paper, Steinmetz does not serve in any executive capacity at his own creation, BSGR, and is described by the company solely as an “adviser and beneficiary to the incomes of the group’s companies.”
Steinmetz has repeatedly fallen into conflict with Israel’s Tax Authority over his status at BSGR, since he pays tax in Israel only for “advisory fees.”
Former attorney-general Meni Mazuz suspected Steinmetz of large-scale tax evasion in 2009 and ordered a probe into the tycoon’s affairs.
“The [suspected] offenses are offenses that were made deliberately and maliciously in order to evade tax and make wrongful gains,” Mazuz wrote in the probe case file.
The probe, however, never developed into a criminal investigation.
The current investigation – which includes law enforcement agencies in the US, UK, Switzerland and now Israel – involves allegations that Steinmetz’s BSGR gained the rights to explore and develop 50% of Guinea’s Simandou iron ore mines through bribes and personal favors to officials in Guinea’s former dictatorial regime, including the late dictator himself, Gen. Lansana Conté.
BSGR – with no experience in iron ore exporting – acquired the exploration rights to Simandou for $160 million in December 2008.
The acquisition was made shortly after Conté stripped the rights from the much larger and experienced multinational Rio Tinto Group.
BSGR then sold 51% of its share of Simandou in 2009 to the Brazilian mining company Vale for $2.5b.
The usually media-shy Steinmetz told The Financial Times in a rare interview in 2012 that BSGR pursues opportunities “in an aggressive way” and that “you have to get your hands dirty.”