In the Swiss city of Geneva, the trial of Israeli-French billionaire Beny Steinmetz over corruption linked to a large mining deal in Guinea begins. Steinmetz denies that his company paid millions of dollars in bribes to obtain licenses to explore iron mines in southern Guinea in 2008, and his lawyer says he will travel from Israel to Geneva to defend him.
If found guilty, Steinmetz faces up to ten years in prison. It is rare for major corruption cases to be referred to Swiss courts, as Steinmetz, 64, was based there.
Prosecutors had spent six years investigating a deal that awarded exploration rights in a large mountainous area in Simandu to the BSGR company owned by Steinmetz. The mine contains one of the largest iron ore reserves in the world.
Steinmetz is accused of winning the deal through bribes, which he provided to one of the wives of former Guinean President Lansana Conte, and forging documents to cover it up.
Steinmetz obtained the exploration rights for an investment of about $ 160 million, but after 18 months, he sold half of it to a Brazilian multinational mining company, for $ 2.5 billion, at a colossal profit.
At that time, questions arose about the granting of very cheap initial rights. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese billionaire, and anti-corruption activist asked, “Are the Guineans who concluded that deal idiots or criminals, or both?”
Steinmetz insists he has done nothing wrong, and stated nine years ago that it was natural to seize opportunities in an aggressive manner. Despite its vast natural resources, Guinea remains one of the poorest countries in Africa, and it relies heavily on iron ore reserves in the Simandu Mountains.