At Swiss graft trial, Israeli diamond magnate accused of ‘telling tall tales’

Diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz is accused of telling tales at his trial in Geneva, where he is accused of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea.

Steinmetz repeatedly insists that he was an adviser rather than the man at the top of the firm making all the decisions and aware of all the financial details.

The French-Israeli businessman, 64, insists that “never in my life” had he asked anyone to pay money to Mamadie Toure, whom prosecutors say was the fourth wife of former Guinean president Lansana Conte, and a key figure in the case.

Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accuses him of “telling tall tales.”

French-Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz comes back to Geneva’s courthouse during his trial over allegations of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea, on January 11, 2021 in Geneva. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“You are a simple adviser who meets hundreds of ministers? In every company, it’s normally the big boss who does that!” he says.

Toure has admitted to having received payments and has protected status in the United States as a state witness.

She is scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday as a witness but it is doubtful whether she will appear at the Geneva Criminal Court.

“She told a lot of lies,” Steinmetz says, and “regarding the payments she received — I don’t know. I was only a consultant”.

“All the people who mention my name in connection with Mrs. Toure are saying false things. I have nothing to do with Mamadie Toure.”

Steinmetz says he had never knowingly met Toure.

Mamadie Toure (2006 screenshot)

“I met Lansana Conte in March 2008, under a tree in front of his bombed-out palace,” he says.

“After this meeting, someone told me that perhaps one of the women present was Mamadie Toure.”

Steinmetz’s lawyers demanded Monday the withdrawal of Toure’s testimony, arguing that her status in the United States was not valid in Switzerland, but the motion was overruled.

Steinmetz is accused of having set up a complex financial web, including a system of front companies, in order to pay bribes — partly through Swiss accounts — so that Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) could obtain mining permits in Guinea’s southeastern Simandou region.

The area is estimated to contain the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposits.

The case continues on Wednesday.