Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz will appear in a Geneva court next month to defend himself against corruption and forgery charges in connection with mining contracts in Guinea, his lawyer told Reuters.
Steinmetz was indicted in August of 2019 by a Geneva prosecutor who accused him and two aides in connection with $10 million in bribes paid to one of the wives of former Guinean President Lansana Conte for mining licenses in 2005-10.
“There are two charges, corruption and forgery. Both are categorically contested. The charges have no basis in fact or in law,” Marc Bonnant, a prominent Geneva lawyer representing Steinmetz, told Reuters Friday.
The lawyer questioned whether the late Conte was married to Mamadie Toure, named as a spouse of the late president in the indictment, during that time. Toure could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Beny Steinmetz never signed forged documents, he was never an instigator of the signature of forged documents,” the lawyer added.
The trial had been expected early this year, but was delayed by the closure of the Swiss judicial system for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic. A second source close to the case confirmed that the proceedings were set for January 11-22.
Claudio Mascotto, a Geneva prosecutor, said last year he was seeking prison terms of two to 10 years for Steinmetz and his two associates. Mascotto is no longer handling the case and has been replaced by two other prosecutors, Bonnant said.
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Development of Simandou – one of the world’s biggest iron ore deposits, containing billions of metric tons of high-grade ore – has been hindered for years by legal wrangling.
Guinea’s government under President Alpha Conde launched a review of mining contracts signed before 2011, including how Beny Steinmetz Group Resources had obtained rights to the Simandou deposit in 2008. After leveling corruption allegations, the government stripped the company of its rights to Simandou and a smaller deposit.
BSGR has maintained that it did nothing wrong. It walked away from the Simandou project as part of a settlement announced in February 2019 with the Guinean government, in which both parties agreed to drop outstanding legal action.