Beny Steinmetz, Israel’s richest person, agreed to be interviewed by Swiss authorities as part of an investigation relating to ownership of a Guinean iron-ore project, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Steinmetz is expected to meet with the office of Geneva’s public prosecutor in the city within the next four weeks, said the person, who was briefed on the matter and asked not to be identified as the investigation is confidential. Henri Della Casa, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, declined to comment on the planned interview.
Steinmetz has a net worth of $7.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and his BSG Resources Ltd. owns a 49 percent stake in a venture that controls half of the giant Simandou iron ore deposit in Guinea. Steinmetz has offered to collaborate with Swiss authorities and is co-operating fully, his lawyer Marc Bonnant said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Steinmetz’s Geneva home was raided two weeks ago by Swiss Police following a request by the government of Guinea, a person familiar with the matter said Sept. 11, asking not to be identified as the probe isn’t public. No documents were taken away, that person said.
Guinea’s actions against Steinmetz and BSG Resources are a “campaign of intimidation and malicious lies, which are an attempt to damage his impeccable reputation,” Bonnant said.
The West African country is reviewing mining licenses including the one for Simandou, which was once described as the world’s largest untapped deposit of the steelmaking raw material. In April, a U.S. grand jury investigation began into claims that bribes were paid by BSG Resources for mining rights in Guinea. No charges have been filed.
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 BSGR.
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 request for assistance from Swiss authorities is part of ongoing attempts to “expropriate illegally” mining rights over Simandou held by BSG Resources, the company said yesterday in an e-mailed statement that included Bonnant’s comments.
BSG Resources said in March that Guinea was preparing to remove mining rights from its joint venture with Brazil’s Vale SA, which plans a $10 billion mining operation at Simandou. The deposit is split into four blocks. Steinmetz’s company gained control of blocks 1 and 2 after the government ordered Rio Tinto Group to hand them over in 2008.
In April 2010, Vale agreed to pay BSG Resources as much as $2.5 billion for a 51 percent stake in deposits in the country including Rio’s confiscated blocks. The two blocks were legally stripped from Rio because the company failed to proceed with development, BSG Resources said last month.
Frederic Cilins, a French citizen who says he has worked for BSG Resources 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.
BSG Resources “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 yesterday.
Cilins, who was described by Guinea as an “agent” of BSG Resources, 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 BSG Resources, Bonnant said.
“What is taking place in Switzerland is a part of an international investigation which involves many countries,” Albert Damatang Camara, a spokesman for Guinea’s government, said by phone yesterday. “Guinea’s policy concerning review of mining agreements does not aim at expropriating a particular company.”
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 has interests in real estate, financing and the oil and gas sector.