GENEVA – A Swiss court on Friday convicted the French-Israeli mining magnate Beny Steinmetz of corrupting foreign officials and forging documents in a trial for his successful bid to harvest wasteful iron ore resources in the West African nation of Guinea.
Mr. Steinmetz, one of the richest people in Israel, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $ 56.5 million.
The case revolved around alleged payouts of millions of dollars to a former wife of an ex-President of Guinea, Lansana Conté, who died in 2008. The process revealed the seedy and complex world of deal-making and cutthroat competition in the lucrative mining business.
His defense attorney Marc Bonnant said he would appeal the verdict “immediately”. Mr Bonnant said his client did not give “a single dollar” to any official of the Guinea regime during the presidency of Mr Conté.
Prosecutor Yves Bertossa told reporters that he was “satisfied” with the verdict, and the Swiss transparency group Public Eye welcomed a “landmark decision”.
“This conviction of a top-class business figure is not only a strong signal for the entire raw materials sector, but also shows that Switzerland absolutely has to close the legal loopholes that make such predatory practices possible,” it continues.
The 64-year-old stonemason denied the charges, which date back to the mid-2000s, and involved his company BSG Resources, which ousted a rival for mining rights to huge iron ore deposits in the Simandou region of Guinea.
The Geneva public prosecutor said that Mr. Steinmetz and two other defendants were involved in the corruption of foreign officials and the forgery of documents in order to hide the payment of bribes from authorities and banks. Some of the funds are said to have been transferred through Switzerland – and the case has been investigated in Europe, Africa and the US.
The Swiss public prosecutor said that from 2005 Mr Steinmetz had signed a corruption pact with Mr Conté, who ruled the West African country from 1984 until his death, and his fourth wife Mamadie Touré, which included the payment of nearly 10 million US dollars.
In their court file, prosecutors said that BSG Resources had obtained exploration and exploration licenses in Guinea in the Simandou region between 2006 and 2010 and that its competitor – the Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto – had been deprived of the concessions it had been holding up until then then had in this region.
In 2014, following a review by the democratically elected President Alpha Condé, the Guinean government accused Mr. Steinmetz of corruption and paid Ms. Touré millions of dollars through a representative.
Civil society organizations have advocated proposals that increase the accountability of Swiss-based companies for their activities abroad. Such a proposal, which would have made companies based in Switzerland responsible for human rights violations and environmental damage to subsidiaries abroad, failed in a referendum last year.