The Geneva home of Beny Steinmetz, the billionaire natural-resources investor who is Israel’s richest person, was raided by Swiss police, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The raid was ordered by Geneva’s public prosecutor following a request by the government of Guinea and occurred within the last two weeks, said the person, who was briefed on the matter and asked not to be identified as the investigation is confidential. No documents were taken away, the person said.
Steinmetz, who has a net worth of $7.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, offered to collaborate with Swiss Authorities and is co-operating fully, his lawyer Marc Bonnant said in an e-mailed statement. Steinmetz is undeterred, according to Bonnant, who described the actions of Guinea as a “campaign of intimidation and malicious lies, which are an attempt to damage his impeccable reputation.”
BSG Resources Ltd., Steinmetz’s mining company, owns a 49 percent stake in a venture that controls half of the giant Simandou iron ore deposit in Guinea. The West African country is reviewing mining licenses including Simandou’s, once described as the largest untapped deposit of the steel-making raw material in the world. In April, a U.S. grand jury investigation began into claims that bribes were paid by BSG Resources for mining rights in Guinea.
Henri Della Casa, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Geneva, declined to comment on the raid. No one answered the phone at the public relations offices of the Geneva police.
Geneva’s public prosecutor said last month it opened an investigation into Onyx Financial Advisors U.K. at the request of Guinea. Swiss police last month raided the Geneva offices of Onyx, a London-based company whose chief executive officer, Dag Cramer, is a director of BSG Resources.
Onyx “provided the Swiss authorities with information following a request to Switzerland by the Government of Guinea,” it said in an Aug. 29 statement.
Guinea’s actions in requesting assistance from Swiss authorities is part of ongoing attempts to “expropriate illegally” mining rights over Simandou held by BSGR, the company said today in an e-mailed statement that included Bonnant’s comments.
BSGR said in March that Guinea was preparing to remove mining rights from its joint venture with Brazil’s Vale SA, which planned a $10 billion operation. Steinmetz’s company gained control of half of the Simandou ground, split into four blocks, after Rio Tinto Group was ordered by the government in 2008 to hand over the northern half to BSGR.
$2.5 Billion Sale
In April 2010, Vale agreed to pay BSGR as much as $2.5 billion for a 51 percent stake in deposits in the country including Rio’s confiscated blocks. The Simandou blocks 1 and 2 were legally stripped from Rio because the company failed to proceed with development, BSGR said last month.
Frederic Cilins, a French citizen who says he has worked for BSGR in Guinea, was denied bail in July while awaiting trial on charges he interfered with the U.S. grand jury probe. He’s charged with witness tampering, obstructing a criminal investigation and destruction of evidence in a federal investigation. The witness-tampering and record-destruction charges carry maximum prison terms of 20 years.
“BSGR is seemingly being punished for refusing to engage in bribery or corruption and for focusing singularly on trying to bring development to the country,” Bonnant, Steinmetz’s lawyer, said today.
Cilins said he was arrested after trying to stop an extortion attempt by the government’s main witness. He has pleaded not guilty. Guinea hasn’t provided any evidence to support “false and malicious allegations” against both Steinmetz and BSGR, Bonnant said.
Steinmetz amassed his fortune initially in the diamond trade, according to his personal website. Working from a base in Antwerp, Belgium, in the 1980s and 1990s, he joined forces with his brother Daniel Steinmetz to conduct business deals in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and India. Beny Steinmetz and his family moved to Geneva in 2010, according to the website.
In addition to diamonds, mining and mineral assets, the Steinmetz family also holds interests in real estate, financing and the oil and gas sector.