Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz has been given a five-year jail sentence by a court in Geneva, in a trial described as the mining sector’s biggest-ever corruption case.
The trial threw a spotlight on an often murky struggle for control of Africa’s natural resources.
Steinmetz, a former diamond magnate who also holds French citizenship, was convicted of bribing public officials in Guinea, in order to gain control of the country’s iron ore deposits.
The court also ordered him to pay compensation of 50m Swiss francs (£41m; $56m) to the state of Geneva.
“It is clear from what has been presented… that the rights were obtained through corruption and that Steinmetz co-operated with others,” to obtain them, Chief Justice Alexandra Banna told the court, according to AFP news agency.
Steinmetz, who has always denied bribery, condemned the verdict as a “big injustice”. He plans to challenge the verdict and will not go to jail pending the appeal, his lawyer said.
The Simandou mines, in south-eastern Guinea, are estimated to be the most valuable untapped iron ore deposits in the world.
The case dates back to 2006 when, according to the prosecution, the businessman, working for a company called Beny Steinmetz Resources Group (BSGR), paid bribes so that BSGR could acquire mining rights in Simandou. These had originally been held by mining giant Rio Tinto.
The trial took place in Switzerland because Mr Steinmetz lived in Geneva until 2016, and ran businesses there. Some of the bribes, the prosecution said, were paid through Swiss banks.
Steinmetz now lives in Israel, but travelled to Geneva to appear in court in person, hiring one of Geneva’s most high-profile lawyers, Marc Bonnant, to defend him.
The court found that Steinmetz, 64, and his two co-defendants had paid $8,5m (£6,2m) in bribes to a wife of Guinea’s late president Lansana Conté, who died in 2008.
They were found guilty of setting up elaborate schemes to hide the link between BSGR and Conté’s fourth wife, Mamadie Touré. She had been scheduled to appear in court herself but did not turn up. She now lives in the United States. -AFP