Testimony in the recent corruption trial of convicted Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz indicates that he sought dirt on billionaire George Soros, whom he blames for the trial’s existence in the first place.
Steinmetz was sentenced to five years imprisonment last month in a Swiss court after being convicted for bribery. During Steinmitz's trial, Israeli-Ukrainian businessman Ofer Kerzner testified that Steinmetz had paid him to hire the services of cybersecurity firm Sdema Group to “collect intelligence” on Soros.
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Kerzner, a property investor who is also honorary consul of Ukraine in Jerusalem and a philanthropist, testified that he served as Steinmetz’s front man in various payments, including fictitious deals meant to hide his role in various payments. After the affair was reported, Kerzner agreed to testify against Steinmetz.
The case, which Israel also investigated, revealed evidence of $12 million that Kerzner held for Steinmetz, from which he made various payments at the businessman's request. Some of the money covered a bribe to Mamadie Touré, the wife of the late Guinean President Lansana Conté – for which Steinmetz was convicted – in exchange for mining rights. Another $250,000 went to hiring the cybersecurity company to investigate Soros.
Kerzner's testimony, backed by emails provided to investigators, said that the entity that made the contract in the name of the cybersecurity company, the funds transfer through the company under his control and even the consulting draft contract between the sides discovered by investigators were all fictitious.
Sdema was founded by three ex-Shin Bet agents: Dan Vesely, who was director of its HR department; Shlomo Harnoy, who left the company in 2019; and Dror Mor. The company website says the company engages in “homeland security” – which usually means trading in weapons, information or security technology, as well as cyber defense. Calcalist recently reported that the company was involved in a major cybersecurity project for an unspecified Persian Gulf state that has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
The revelation that Sdema’s services had been used in this way arose in a confrontation – an investigation procedure in which a witness and suspect directly confront each other – between Steinmetz and Kerzner arranged as part of the investigation. Africa Confidential first published information about the affair last month, without naming Sdema.
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Kerzner said during the confrontation that he paid $250,000 through a company under his name, Chaweng Global, to Panamanian company Claibury Consulting at the behest of Steinmetz on behalf of another businessman referred to only as “Solly.” Presented with a receipt given to Chaweng for “consulting, planning” and other services, Kerzner said the services were neither for him “nor any other companies in my possession.”
Steinmetz denied receiving any services from Sdema, adding, “It’s possible that one of the companies received something. I don’t know.”
Kerzner brought up Soros at this point. “I don’t know if [Steinitz] is more of a billionaire or a liar,” he said. “For example, regarding his last answer, when he was investigated by Israel Police, Benny confirmed to investigators that he ordered me to pay Danny and Solly for intelligence about George Soros, and that he didn’t want to transfer the payment via the board – and that’s the reason he asked me to make a direct payment.”
The source of Steinitz's hostility toward Soros relates to the latter’s ties with Conté’s successor Alpha Condé, who has been Guinea’s president since 2010. Soros has reportedly advised Condé on mining and suggested he reevaluate the contract with the Steinmetz Group, which was eventually canceled.
Another grievance raised occasionally by Steinmetz is the role of human rights group Global Witness in several investigations of Steinmetz’s businesses. Philanthropies founded by Soros support Global Witness. Steinmetz’s group sued Soros for $10 billion in New York in 2017, claiming Soros cooked up the investigation against Steinmetz, which badly damaged his businesses. Following Steinmetz’s conviction, Soros sought to have the lawsuit thrown out of court.
Steinmetz and Sdema declined to comment for this article.