A Swiss court today (Tuesday) rejected most of the claims in the appeal filed by Israeli billionaire Benny Steinmetz against his conviction for bribery and fraud, but reduced the prison sentence he was sentenced to a year and a half of actual imprisonment.
From the press release published this morning by the prosecution offices in Geneva, it appears that the Geneva Court of Appeals upheld Steinmetz’s conviction for involvement in “bribing foreign officials”, but acquitted him of the charge of “fraud and falsification of corporate documents”.
The Court of Appeals also reduced his sentence from five years in prison to three years in prison, of which one and a half years in actual prison, but left intact the financial fine imposed on him, in the amount of 50 million Swiss francs.
Steinmetz’s lawyer told Globes that “the court in Geneva accepted some of our claims, overturned the conviction on various counts and reduced the prison sentence handed down by the previous court. We will continue to fight to prove Mr. Steinmetz’s innocence and will file an appeal with the Swiss Federal Court against the few remaining charges.”
The appeal process opened in August 2022, after Steinmetz was convicted – along with two other defendants – of bribery and fraud offenses by the criminal court in the Swiss canton in January 2021. The Swiss media covered the proceedings extensively, which they called “the most significant bribery trial” in the global, secretive mining business for most.
Steinmetz and others were convicted of paying approximately 8.5 million dollars to people close to Guinea’s President Lansana Konto, in order to obtain a mining license in a large iron ore mine – one of the largest in the world – located in Simando.
Bribe money for the president of Guinea
According to the court, the BSGR company, which was registered in the Canton of Geneva, acted against the law when it transferred bribe money to the President of Guinea, Lansana Conte, and especially to his fourth wife Mamdi Toure, in exchange for receiving the rights to the mine in the Simando area, during the first decade of the 2000s.
Along with Steinmetz, two other defendants stood trial: Sandra Marloni Hormans, a former executive at BSGR and Frederick Silins, Steinmetz’s business partner. Both were convicted as well. Steinmetz returned to Geneva for the appeal, and appeared in the courtroom in August. He was free to leave the country even after he was convicted, as long as the appeals in his case are ongoing.
In 2021, the Geneva Criminal Court rejected the defense’s claims that Steinmetz did not know about any payments to senior officials in Guinea and even that he did not hold any official position in BSGR, a company whose initials are “Benny Steinmetz Group Resources”. The court determined that between the years From 2006 to 2012, Steinmetz and two other senior officials related to him transferred at least 8.5 million dollars, and apparently 10 million dollars, to the fourth wife of Guinea’s president, Lancena Conte, who died in 2008. According to the court, these funds were the payment for obtaining mining rights in the iron ore deposit in Simando.
Today the Court of Appeals announced that it accepts the ruling of the Criminal Court regarding the conviction for “transferring bribes to foreign public officials” but cancels the conviction regarding “fraud and falsification of corporate documents”. The bribe that was transferred, the verdict says, “allowed the BSGR group to create a partnership with a Brazilian company worth 2.5 billion dollars, and to immediately receive 500 million dollars.” The court confirmed the ruling of the court according to which “many moves were made to hide the bribe”.
Regarding the sentence, the Court of Appeals announced this morning that “the prison sentences handed down by the judges in the first instance are reduced, mainly because of the time that has passed since the acts”. “Benjamin Steinmetz has now been sentenced to three years in prison, of which 18 months are actual imprisonment, and the remainder is on probation,” it said. The court upheld the 50 million Swiss franc fine imposed by the previous court. The parties have 30 days to appeal the tribunal’s ruling to the Federal Court.
Steinmetz’s lawyer, Adv. Eitan Maoz, added: “Mr. Steinmetz is the victim of an ugly false plot, as has already been proven in the decision of the Israeli Prosecutor’s Office to close the investigation against him, in his victory in the proceedings against Rio Tinto, in his victory in the proceedings against the Brazilian Vale company, and wherever it was given He has the practical opportunity to prove the rightness of his claims without political considerations.”