Steinmetz Group Seeks Blair’s Help to Free Detained Guinea Staff

BSG Resources Ltd., the mining company controlled by Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz, called on U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair to help get two of its employees released from “illegal detention” in Guinea.

Ibrahima Sory Toure and Issaga Bangoura were arrested in the capital Conakry on April 19 and have since been held in “appalling conditions” that contravene the West African nation’s criminal procedure code and international human rights, BSGR said today in an e-mailed statement.

Toure and Bangoura were arrested last month as part of a U.S. probe into whether bribes were paid to win licenses covering the Simandou deposit in Guinea in which Guernsey-based BSGR has an interest. The project has been described as the largest undeveloped iron ore deposit in the world and may be valued at as much as $50 billion, according to Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd.

The two have been held for 28 days “on baseless allegations of so-called ‘passive corruption,’” BSGR said. It wants Blair’s intervention “in his capacity as a close and trusted adviser to the Guinean regime.” A spokeswoman for Blair in London didn’t want to make any immediate comment.

“They are within their rights to want to challenge this,” Guinean Justice Minister Christian Sow said in an interview on his mobile phone today. “You’ll never find someone’s who’s accused saying it’s perfect.”

The men were arrested following “suspicious activities aimed at removing themselves from the ongoing process” around the probe, Guinea’s justice ministry said in an April 22 statement.

‘Key Witnesses’

Toure was preparing to leave Guinea and Bangoura was wanted by his military unit for being absent without permission, according to the e-mailed statement, which described the men as “key witnesses” to the probe. Toure was charged by Guinean authorities on May 10, his lawyer Momo Sacko said.

BSGR said in March that Guinea was preparing to strip its joint venture with Brazil’s Vale SA, the world’s biggest exporter of iron ore, of its mining rights in the country.

The venture is planning a $10 billion iron ore mine at Simandou. The dispute with Guinea intensified amid a government review into the agreements signed with mining companies.

A French citizen linked by the Guinea government to BSGR pleaded not guilty in New York this week to charges he obstructed a U.S. grand jury investigation into bribes paid to win mining rights in Guinea.

The case in New York is U.S. v. Cilins, 13-mj-00975, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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