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Israeli billionaire probed by Swiss investigators

Demand for iron ore has been fuelled in recent years by the booming Asian economy Reuters

Israel’s richest man, Beny Steinmetz, has agreed to be questioned by a Geneva prosecutor in connection with an ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption related to an iron-ore project in Guinea.

This content was published on September 13, 2013 - 12:09
swissinfo.ch and agencies

Steinmetz’s interview will take place within the next four weeks, according to sources quoted by the Bloomberg news agency. The Geneva cantonal prosecutor's office has confirmed that an investigation is under way following a request from Guinea for judicial aid, but has declined to give further details.

A spokesman for BSG Resources (BSGR), the mining arm of the billionaire’s conglomerate, said Steinmetz was cooperating with the Swiss authorities. His Geneva lawyer, Marc Bonnant, added in a statement that his client had "offered to collaborate with the authorities, is cooperating fully, and is very happy to do so".

Swiss investigation

Police searched Steinmetz’s Geneva residence last month as part of the investigation into mining rights in Guinea. Nothing was taken from the property. The police also raided the Geneva offices of Onyx Financial Advisers, which provides management services for BSGR, a spokesman said.

The West African country has accused BSGR of paying bribes to obtain its concessions under a previous government. It is reviewing the company's right to mine half of Simandou, one of the world's largest untapped iron ore deposits.

BSGR denies it paid bribes for its concession, and has criticised the Guinea government for trying to renege on its obligations.

In a statement, Steinmetz connected the Swiss searches to the arrest of two local employees of BSGR who have been detained without charge in Guinea's capital Conakry for five months, and to what he says are efforts by the government to illegally expropriate mining rights.

"In an attempt to justify their continued illegal detention, the government of Guinea has sent direct requests to the Swiss authorities to collect information on its behalf," BSGR said in a statement.

US probe

As part of a US corruption probe involving Guinea, FBI agents arrested an BSGR agent in April on charges of obstructing a criminal investigation, tampering with a witness and destroying records.

In federal court in New York on Thursday, prosecutors said they had obtained from Guinea original contracts central to their case that they accuse the agent of trying to destroy. The contracts provide evidence of payments "for the purpose of obtaining valuable mining rights in Guinea", prosecutors said in a court document.

A lawyer for the agent argued that his client should be allowed to test the authenticity of the contracts.

A prosecutor said that whether or not the contracts are authentic has no bearing on his intent to destroy them.

The agent's trial is slated to begin December 2.

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