The trial of Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz, which began in Geneva yesterday, has attracted major international media coverage. Steinmetz, 64, is charged together with two others, with bribery in order to receive the concession for the world's largest iron ore mine in the West African country of Guinea.
Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR), controlled by Steinmetz, bought the rights to the mine from the Guinea government for $170 million in 2008 and sold half the rights a year later for $2.5 billion. Steinmetz and the two other defendants are accused of paying the former Guinea President Lansana Conte and his fourth wife Mamadie Toure bribes of at least $8.5 million for the rights. Steinmetz and the other defendants deny all the charges.
Steinmetz reportedly flew to Switzerland for the trial, which has begun despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Much of the international interest in the trial stems from the fact that the alleged corruption is symptomatic of the way governments operate in Africa where bribery is endemic in the name of profits for western countries at the expense of the continent's population, with a very thin layer of corrupt politicians at the top of society creaming off large amounts of money for themselves.
Anti-corruption organization Public Eye describes the events in Geneva as, "The biggest corruption trial in the mining business." Through anonymous leaks and tips, Public Eye has sketched out the complicated mechanism by which BSGR allegedly bribed Conte and Toure.
Steinmetz is charged with, 'paying bribes to senior government officials," and "forgery and fraud using corporate documents." The prosecutor claims that between 2006 and 2012, Steinmetz and two of his senior executives covertly transferred the $8.5 million to Conte and Toure.
"Reuters" explains that the trial is taking place in Geneva because Steinmetz and his family were living there between 2010 and 2016.
The European media reports that Steinmetz's lawyers tried to halt the legal proceedings yesterday on procedural matters because the Swiss prosecutor had made undocumented investigative trips to Israel, charging that the work of the prosecutor was not transparent and unfair to the accused. But the three judges dismissed the matter.
It still remains unclear whether Toure, who lives in the US, will fly to Geneva to give evidence.
Steinmetz's attorney Marc Bonnant told "Reuters" that Steinmetz had never paid a cent to Toure and that she was not married to Lansana Conte. "She is not a public agent and therefore cannot be corrupted," he said.
In 2019, the current Guinean government of Alpha Conde dropped all claims against Steinmetz who reportedly gave up his rights to the mine.
Presumption of innocence: The criminal proceedings in the affairs of Beny Steinmetz are still underway in the court in Switzerland. He denies the charges against him and he has the right of being presumed innocent.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 12, 2021
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