One of the world’s wealthiest men, diamond and mining magnate Beny Steinmetz was arrested in Greece when his private jet landed at Athens airport last month, after a Swiss court convicted him of bribery in January 2021.
The owner of BSG Resources was sentenced early this year in Geneva to five years in prison for paying the wife of Guinea’s deceased former president, Lansana Conte, $8.5 million in the mid 2000s to secure the concession rights to the vast Simandou iron ore project.
The court case, which resulted in Steinmetz being convicted of corrupting foreign agents and forging documents, exposed the shady and complex world of deal-making and cutthroat competition in the lucrative mining business.
Steinmetz, who had faced a maximum of 10 years in the case, was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay a $50m fine. A loophole in Swiss law allowed him to return to Israel within hours of the sentencing.
Steinmetz, 64, had denied the charges and his defence team said that he would appeal the ruling.
Steinmetz acquired the rights to the Simandou iron-ore project in Guinea in 2008. With over two billion tonnes of reserves and some of the highest grades in the industry (66% – 68% Fe which attracts premium pricing), Simandou is one of the most easily exploitable iron ore fields outside of Australia’s Pilbara region and Brazil.
At full production, the concession would export up to 100 million tonnes per year.
Simandou would by itself be the world’s fifth-largest producer behind Fortescue Metals and BHP.
Swiss transparency group Public Eye said that Steinmetz employed “opaque structures” to hide the allegedly corrupt schemes that were managed from Geneva, where he lived until 2016.
The group said that the case highlighted how tax havens can be used to conceal questionable, “even illegal” activities in countries with weak governance and regulation.
The Israeli billionaire, whose net worth was estimated in November 2019 by Forbes to be $1.1 billion, was detained at Athens airport on November 24 on an international arrest warrant but released 24 hours later on condition that he remain in Greece, according to Romanian authorities.
Steinmetz’s arrest was a coordinated effort between Greece and Romania following his conviction in a separate case in Bucharest last year.
Steinmetz was released after spending two days in Athens airport’s detention cells. He remains in Greece.