French-Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz went on trial in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday over allegations of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea, after a drawn-out international investigation.
Steinmetz, who traveled from Israel to take part in the two-week trial, has denied wrongdoing in the case, which involves allegations of multimillion-dollar bribes paid to top Guinean officials to win lucrative mining rights.
The 64-year-old businessman faces charges of corrupting public officials and forging documents following a six-year inquiry.
Swiss prosecutors accuse him and two partners of bribing a wife of former Guinean president Lansana Conte and others to win mining rights in the southeastern Simandou region, which is thought to contain the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposit.
Steinmetz has previously dismissed the allegations as baseless and an attempt by political enemies to smear him.
Prosecutors say Steinmetz obtained the mining rights shortly before Conte died in 2008 after about US$10 million was paid in bribes, some through Swiss bank accounts.
Prosecutors claim Steinmetz and representatives in Guinea entered a “pact of corruption” with Conte and his fourth wife, Mamadie Toure. She is a key witness in the trial and is scheduled to testify on today, although it remains unclear if she will come.
Bonnant has said that his client “never paid a cent to Ms Mamadie Toure” and claims that she was not married to Conte, she was his mistress, meaning she could not be considered a corruptible official under Swiss law.
Conte’s dictatorship ordered global mining giant Rio Tinto to relinquish two concessions to BSGR for about US$170 million in 2008. Just 18 months later, BSGR sold 51 percent of its stake in the concession to Brazilian mining giant Vale for US$2.5 billion.
However, in 2013, Guinea’s first democratically elected president, Alpha Conde, launched a review of permits allotted under Conte and later stripped the VBG consortium formed by BSGR and Vale of its permit.
Steinmetz could be jailed for up to 10 years if convicted.
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