Israeli Billionaire Loses Damage Suit Against British NGO

Beny Steinmetz sought to block Global Witness from exposing evidence of corruption in obtaining mining rights in Guinea.

Tomer Appelbaum

Britain’s data watchdog has dismissed Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s claims against a campaign group that used data to link him and his BSGR mining business to corruption in Guinea, saying the group enjoyed exemptions for journalists.

Steinmetz and three executives working with BSGR — which was stripped of its mining rights on the giant Simandou iron deposit in Guinea in April for alleged corruption — sued the Global Witness group last year at the High Court of London, claiming damages for breaches of their human and data protection rights.

The court passed the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which said that Global Witness was covered by exemptions because of the journalistic nature of its work.

BSGR, which has denied any wrongdoing, said it would appeal.

The BSGR executives, suing under British data protection law, accused Global Witness of unfairly obtaining and using but then refusing to produce on request personal data on Steinmetz, David Clark, Sandra Merloni-Horemans and Dag Cramer.

It was the first time the privacy law was used in such a context.

Global Witness, which campaigns for transparency in the resources industry, maintained that given the journalistic nature of its work it could rely on exemptions from data disclosure.

“It is a victory for press freedom because it defines journalists by what they do, not whom they work for,” Leigh Baldwin, an investigative journalist at Global Witness, said on the ruling.

BSGR is currently also engaged in legal battles against Guinea and two large mining companies — Rio Tinto and Vale — with interests in Simandou.

“The ICO has not applied the law correctly and we will be asking the courts to review its decision,” said a spokeswoman for BSGR.

BSGR has denied paying bribes to obtain licenses in Guinea and has accused Guinea and its advisers, including philanthropist George Soros, one of Global Witness’ main funders, of mounting a smear campaign against it.

Earlier this month BSGR also said it had started legal action against Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May and the U.K. anti-fraud agency also in relation to the Guinea case.