Swiss authorities searched Beny Steinmetz’s private jet during August raids that also covered his Geneva home, said the billionaire’s lawyer, who added that the raids failed to yield any evidence of corruption relating to a Guinea ore project.
Steinmetz, whose company BSG Resources Ltd. owns a 49 per cent stake in a venture that controls half of the giant Simandou iron ore deposit, is expected to meet Geneva’s public prosecutor within three to four weeks, Marc Bonnant, his lawyer, said in a phone interview today.
Steinmetz, Israel’s richest person, will answer questions about documents seized in the August raids and an investigation started by Swiss authorities at Guinea’s request, Bonnant said. The probe stems from allegations that a BSGR official bribed a wife of a former president of the African country to secure mining rights.
“BSGR did not pay a cent to the president or his wife,” Bonnant said. “There is not a cent of corruption. There are audits that have been made on that. Amongst the documents that have been seized are the audits that show not a cent was paid.”
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 bribes were paid by BSGR for Guinea mining rights. No charges have been filed.
“They took even some documents, without importance, from the plane,” Bonnant said. “Beny Steinmetz came with a private plane. They made also a search of the plane.”
In addition to Steinmetz’s Geneva residence and the aircraft, Swiss police raided local offices of Onyx Financial Advisors UK, a London-based company whose chief executive officer, Dag Cramer, is a director of BSGR. Geneva’s public prosecutor said last month it opened an investigation into Onyx Financial Advisors UK at the request of Guinea.
Onyx “provided the Swiss authorities with information following a request to Switzerland by the Government of Guinea,” it said in an Aug. 29 statement.
Henri Della Casa, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, declined to comment on the case or the planned interview with Steinmetz.
Steinmetz has a net worth of $7.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has offered to collaborate with Swiss authorities and is co-operating fully, Bonnant said. Steinmetz wasn’t home during the raid and gave the prosecutor and police access to the residence, the lawyer said.
The raids are part of a “battle” Steinmetz and his companies are engaged in with Guinean president, Alpha Conde, Bonnant said. BSGR 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.
“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’s company gained control of two of four blocks at Simandou after the government ordered Rio Tinto Group to hand them over in 2008. 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 two blocks 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.
The allegations against Cilins are based on faked documents, said Bonnant, Steinmetz’s lawyer. “They are stupidly forged.”
Cilins, who was described by Guinea as an “agent” of BSGR, said he was arrested after trying to stop an extortion attempt by the government’s main witness. He has pleaded not guilty.