Swiss criminal court finds Israeli businessman guilty of corruption

Steinmetz said he would appeal the ruling, which also included a 50 million Swiss francs ($56.48 million) fine.

Beny Steinmetz (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beny Steinmetz
(photo credit: REUTERS)

A Swiss criminal court found Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz guilty of corruption on Friday and sentenced him to five years in jail, delivering a landmark verdict in one of the mining world's most high-profile legal disputes.

Steinmetz was found guilty of paying a $10m. bribe to the late president of Guinea Lansana Conté, who died in 2008. Lansana allegedly pulled strings to allow the businessman to gain the rights to operate in the Simandou mine. Located in southern Guinea, the mine is reported to hold two billion tons of ore worth $110b. The mine was never developed. Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) lost its right to develop it in 2014. 

Steinmetz said he would appeal the ruling, which also included a 50 million Swiss francs ($56.48 million) fine.

"It is a big injustice," he told reporters outside the Geneva courthouse.

He went on to argue that "there never was, nor is there now, a corrupt act or deed" he is guilty of, but that "all there is in this case are witnesses who lied and accepted bribes, were paid to lie, who didn't show up in court and couldn't be examined." 

He cried out against what he called "a decade of manipulations and lies" and claimed his situation is the result of actions taken by businessman George Soros, who allegedly tried to blackmail him. 

The ruling followed a two-week trial of Steinmetz and two others accused of paying or arranging payment of $10 million in bribes to obtain exploration permits for the world's richest untapped deposits of iron ore and of forging documents to cover it up through a web of shell companies and bank accounts. They denied the charges.

Steinmetz's co-defendants, a French man and a Belgian woman, were also found guilty of corruption and were given a three-and-a-half year jail sentence and a two-year suspended sentence, respectively.

The battle for control of the iron ore, buried in the remote Simandou mountain range of Guinea, has triggered probes and litigation around the world and thwarted efforts to extract the lucrative commodity.

Central to Steinmetz’s defense was his claim that he was not involved in the day-to-day running of BSGR. He described himself as the owner and company ambassador but not the boss of the group that employs some 100,000.

Soros was one of the people current President of Guinea Alpha Condé consulted after he entered office in 2010 before he over-hauled existing contracts in the mining sector.
He called on respective developers to hand over 15% of the mines to the government without any compensation and for greater transparency in business dealings between the state and respective investors. 
While Soros claims his commitment is to end corruption, as he is attempting to do in other parts of the world, The Marker reported that, allegedly, Soros and Steinmetz had a falling out in the 1990's when the two of them attempted to enter the Russian telecommunication market.
It was later revealed Conde accepted millions of US dollars in bribe from Rio Tinto to hand over the mining rights to them, France-24 reported at the time.