Steinmetz to fight Guinea corruption charges in Swiss court

“His defense is simple, he absolutely contests all the charges against him. They have no basis in the facts or in law,” Beny Steinmetz's Geneva lawyer told "Reuters."

Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz will appear in court to fight the Swiss corruption charges against him his Geneva lawyer has told "Reuters." Steinmetz rejects the charges that he paid bribes to win mining licenses in Guinea.

In February, Steinmetz's mining company Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) reached a settlement with Guinea's government and abandoned the large Simandou iron ore project. The affair seemed over until the Swiss prosecutor announced an indictment yesterday.

Geneva prosecutor Claudio Mascotto said he is seeking prison sentences of two to 10 years for Steinmetz and two associates over the alleged payment of $10 million in bribes for mining licences between 2005 and 2010.

Steinmetz's Geneva lawyer Marc Bonnant told "Reuters," “His defense is simple, he absolutely contests all the charges against him. They have no basis in the facts or in law,” he said.

Steinmetz's two associates who are also being charged are Frederic Cilins, a French former adviser to BSGR, and an unnamed Belgian woman.

The trial will not begin for months, "Reuters" reports.

The prosecutor accused the three of “having promised in 2005 and then paid or had bribes paid to one of the wives of former Guinean President Lansana Conte”, so as to have mining rights in Simandou allocated to BSGR.

“Just as the Guinea government has backtracked on its claims, here too it will be proven that there was no wrongdoing in Steinmetz’s activities,” Steinmetz's spokesman told "Reuters." “It should be emphasised that the investigation was launched in Switzerland at the request of the Guinea government, and under international arbitration Guinea has retracted its claims, which is why these are baseless charges.”

Guinea’s mines minister, Abdoulaye Magassouba, told "Reuters" that the government was not involved in trying to prosecute Steinmetz, given February’s agreement. “We have signed specific agreements with Steinmetz and we will fully respect the terms of the agreement. It is not possible for a hostile action against BSGR to come from the government,” he said.

Steinmetz, a former resident of Geneva who moved back to Israel in 2016, attended questioning sessions by the prosecutor, Bonnant said.

“He has given all the indications he could and all the documents to which he had access,” Bonnant said. “And of course he will attend the trial.”

Steinmetz denies the actions attributed to him, and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

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