An Israeli businessman who is among world’s richest men was arrested Monday on suspicion of money laundering and bribing public officials in Africa, following a massive undercover investigation spanning several countries.
Diamond and mining magnate Beny Steinmetz is 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. He was questioned Monday by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, and police searched his home and offices.
The case revolved 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, and sold half of it several years later for $2.5 billion.
According to allegations, BSGR won the concession for the mineral-rich Simandou range, which had been stripped from Rio Tinto, after cultivating a close relationship with then-Guinea president Lansana Conté, who died in 2008.
One of Conte’s wives, Mamadie Toure, has been cooperating with an FBI investigation into allegations that Steinmetz bribed Conte 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.
Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed Steinmetz was detained Monday and placed under house arrest for two weeks.
He said the businessman is suspected of money laundering and bribing public officials in Guinea to promote his business interests there. The arrest was a result of a joint investigation with agencies in the United States, Switzerland and Guinea.
BSGR denied the allegations in a statement Monday.
“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.
Steinmetz resides in Geneva and is a global player in the diamond-mining industry.
A mineral-rich but deeply impoverished country, Guinea has long endured corruption while trying to exploit its natural resources.
Steinmetz’s BSG Resources previously had its mining license revoked in Guinea because of corruption charges. The joint investigation into the Steinmetz’s allegedly corrupt dealings was conducted as part of an OECD drive to root out bribery among government officials worldwide.
Last week, Israeli company Nip Global was found guilty of bribing a government official in the African country of Lesotho in order to advance its business interests there.
The guilty verdict marked the first time than an Israeli company was convicted of bribing a foreign official, which is a criminal offense under Israeli law.