Guinea: Steinmetz trial - Landmark Judgement Against Mining Magnate in Geneva

Iron ore mines in the Simandou Mountains in Guinea.
23 January 2021
editorial

At the conclusion of a widely followed trial, French-Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz was today found guilty of bribery of foreign public officials and document forgery by the Geneva criminal court.

This conviction of a high-profile business figure not only sends a strong signal to the commodities' sector as a whole, but also demonstrates the vital need for Switzerland to finally remedy the legal loopholes that allow such predatory practices.

In its verdict, the court stated that "Steinmetz' collaboration was instrumental in the corruption scheme." Having disproved the defence's argument that Beny Steinmetz had played no role in the affair, the court has sentenced him to 5 years in prison and a confiscation amount of 50 million Swiss francs for having arranged the transfer of almost USD 10 million worth of bribes to Mamadie Touré, the fourth wife of the late Guinean President Lansana Conté.

This corrupt pact allowed Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) to obtain mining licences for the Simandou mine, one of the largest iron ore deposits in the world. Steinmetz's lawyer has already announced that he will appeal the ruling.

The court case, which Public Eye has been closely following, has starkly revealed the inner workings of international corruption, against the backdrop of one of the poorest countries in the world. It has illustrated how the abusive use of tax havens facilitates the concealment of illegal activities in countries where governance and regulations are weak.

To hide its corrupt practices, BSGR used opaque structures, set up from Geneva via a consulting firm called Onyx Financial Advisors. Its former administrator, who was also in the dock, has been given a 2-year suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay a confiscation amount of 50'000 Swiss francs.

Another typical key figure in such cases, the intermediary of BSGR in Guinea, a French man who was a very special connection of Mamadie Touré, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and a confiscation amount of 5 million Swiss francs. In an exceptionally rare move, the judges have today convicted three separate 'links' of the corruption chain, all the way to the top.

Public Eye commends the determination of the Geneva court, which refused to be fooled by the smoke and mirrors and evasion tactics of the defence team, no matter how slick. This verdict sends a strong signal to the entire commodities' industry, a sector which is highly exposed to corruption risks. The verdict must not, however, eclipse how difficult it remains for both Swiss and foreign prosecutors to investigate such complex cases. Although Switzerland has not served as a haven of impunity today, it must take the necessary proactive measures to avoid being one tomorrow.

In order to prevent scandals such as the Steinmetz case, Swiss legislation on money laundering must cover acts linked to the creation, management and administration of companies, trusts and foundations, in particular by lawyers, and require mandatory publication of data on the beneficial owners of companies in Swiss company registers. It is high time for the Swiss authorities to remedy the legal loopholes that facilitate predatory practices which harm poor people in resource-rich countries.

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