Beny Steinmetz found guilty of bribery in Swiss trial

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Rachel Millard
·2 min read
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Beny Steinmetz
Beny Steinmetz

Diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz has been convicted of paying bribes to gain lucrative mining rights and sentenced to five years in prison.

The 64-year-old and two co-defendants were found guilty in a Swiss court of variously paying or arranging ­payment of $8.5m (£6.2m) in bribes to Mamadie Toure, said to be a wife of the late Guinean president Lansana Conte, to secure rights to the iron ore-rich Simandou region in Guinea.

Mr Steinmetz has also been fined $56.5m. He has always denied allegations of wrongdoing and said he will appeal against the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

Speaking to reporters outside a Geneva courthouse after the two-week trial, he said: “It’s a big injustice.”

The case dates back to 2008 when Mr Steinmetz’s company, BSGR, now under the control of administrators, was awarded rights to Simandou by Mr Conte, who was president at the time.

It sold half of the rights to mining giant Vale in a $2.5bn deal to help develop the assets in what was dubbed the “deal of the century”. Vale paid $500m upfront.

But their joint venture was stripped of the rights in 2014 by Mr Conte’s ­successor Alpha Conde, who accused BSGR of having obtained them through bribery.

Guinea ultimately withdrew its ­corruption claims against BSGR in 2019 as part of a deal in which BSGR gave up efforts to reclaim its rights in Simandou.

Swiss prosecutors none the less went ahead with their case against Mr Steinmetz. BSGR was not accused in the Swiss case and has also always denied wrongdoing.

Key to Mr Steinmetz’s defence was his argument that he was not involved in the day-to-day running of BSGR, describing himself as an owner and ambassador but not the boss.

He also argued he had only met Ms Toure once and did not order any payments to her, according to Bloomberg’s account from the courtroom.

Some of the alleged bribes were meant to have been paid after Mr Conte’s death. “How do you bribe a ghost?” Mr Steinmetz’s lawyer Marc Bonnant asked the court. But prosecutor Yves Bertossa said it was a “textbook case of corruption”.

He added: “Today we have neither anyone responsible nor guilty, it’s the theory of magic corruption. There is no corrupter, no corrupted.”

Judge Alexandra Banna added: “The fact that Steinmetz wasn’t aware of all details doesn’t change a thing.

“Steinmetz had his hand on the ­payments and was able to oversee the bribery process.”