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Israeli billionaire in Africa bribery scandal released from house arrest

Beny Steinmetz suspected of paying off Guinea officials, including one of president’s wives, to advance business interests in mineral-rich country

Beny Steinmetz. (Courtesy)
Beny Steinmetz. (Courtesy)

Israeli billionaire businessman Beny Steinmetz was released from house arrest Wednesday after he was detained last month on suspicion of money laundering and bribing public officials in Africa.

The diamond and mining magnate was arrested on December 19 and accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes in the Republic of Guinea in exchange for advancing his business interests in the country, according to the Israel Police.

The case revolves around the purchase by Steinmetz’s company, BSGR, of an iron ore mine in Guinea, for which it allegedly shelled out $165 million in exploration costs. It sold half of it several years later for $2.5 billion.

According to the allegations, BSGR won the concession for the mineral-rich Simandou range, which had been stripped from the Rio Tinto mining corporation, after Steinmetz cultivated a close relationship with then-Guinea president Lansana Conté, who died in 2008.

One of Conté’s wives, Mamadie Toure, has been cooperating with an FBI investigation into allegations that Steinmetz bribed Conté through her. In 2014, former BSGR adviser Frederic Cilins was sentenced to two years in prison in the US for trying to convince Toure to destroy evidence.

Mamadie Toure (2006 screenshot)
Mamadie Toure (2006 screenshot)

The arrest was the result a wide-ranging investigation carried out jointly by agencies from the US, Switzerland, Guinea and Israel in coordination with the OECD.

After Steinmetz’s arrest, Asher Avidan, a top executive in BGSR, was also arrested and later released to two weeks of house arrest.

BSGR denies it was involved in bribery of a foreign public employee and money laundering.

“It is BSGR’s strong belief that these allegations of bribery by the government of Guinea are not only baseless, but are a systematic attempt by the government of Guinea to cover up the endemic corruption which has blighted this country for a number of years,” the company said in a statement after Steinmetz’s arrest.

Steinmetz resides in Geneva and is a global player in the diamond-mining industry.

A mineral-rich but deeply impoverished country, Guinea has long suffered corruption while trying to exploit its natural resources.

Aerial view of Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea. (CC BY-SA, Wikipedia)
Aerial view of Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea. (CC BY-SA, Wikipedia)

Steinmetz’s BSG Resources previously had its mining license revoked in Guinea because of corruption charges. The joint investigation into Steinmetz’s dealings was conducted as part of an OECD drive to root out bribery of government officials worldwide.

In December 2015 it was reported that Steinmetz was accused of involvement in a 136 million euro corruption investigation in Romania.

Judicial sources in Bucharest had said they believed Steinmetz, as well as the Israeli political consultant Tal Ziberstein, conspired with the Romanian businessman Remus Truica to illicitly transfer state-held lands to another Romanian citizen at an alleged cost to the state of nearly $150 million, the Romania Libera daily reported at the time.

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