In a landmark verdict in one of the mining world’s most high profile legal cases, a Swiss criminal court found Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz guilty of corruption and forgery on Friday and sentenced him to five years in jail with a sizeable fine, Trend reports citing Reuters.
The ruling is a blow for Steinmetz, a diamond trader, whose pursuit of the world’s richest uptapped deposits of iron ore put him at the centre of a battle that has triggered probes and litigation around the world.
Steinmetz said he would appeal the verdict, which also included a 50 million Swiss francs ($56.48 million) fine.
“It is a big injustice,” he told reporters in the courtyard of the Geneva courthouse.
Friday’s verdict followed a two-week trial of Steinmetz and two others variously accused of paying or arranging payment of $10 million in bribes to obtain exploration permits for iron ore buried beneath the remote Simandou mountains of Guinea and of forging documents to cover it up through a web of shell companies and bank accounts. All three denied the charges.
Presiding judge Alexandra Banna said Steinmetz and his co-defendants had used fake accounts and attempted to have incriminating documents destroyed to hide their criminal behaviour.
Banna said that Steinmetz had made an immediate profit from the rights to mine and not a cent went to the West African nation of Guinea.
No one from the government in Guinea was immediately available to comment.
Steinmetz, 64, a former Geneva resident who moved back to Israel in 2016, has in the past been ranked as a billionaire and one of Israel’s wealthiest men. Asked by the court to estimate his personal fortune, he said it was $50-80 million.
Central to Steinmetz’s defence was his claim that he was not involved in the day-to-day running of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR). He described himself as the owner and company ambassador but not the boss of the group that employs some 100,000.
In a stinging rebuke, Banna said Steinmetz’s defence thesis of “name dropping” did not stand up.
“He is the effective head of the group,” she said.