Shortly after Alpha Conde became Guinea’s first-ever democratically elected president in December 2010, he began to scrutinize several mining concessions granted under long-time ruler Lansana Conte. The deals concerned the Simandou Mountains, which are said to have the world’s richest iron ore deposits, with exploration rights valued at $10 billion.
Before Conde’s election, Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz had acquired the rights to extract half of the ore at Simandou through Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR). He pledged to invest $165 million to develop a mine in the mountains.
In April 2010, he sold a 51-percent stake (a quarter of the mountain) for $2.5 billion to Vale, a Brazil-based company and the largest iron ore miner globally, The Guardian reported. The partnership was called VBG and aimed to produce around 2 million tons of iron ore per year. Conde’s probe began after Vale paid $500 million to BSGR.
Later in 2013, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI launched an investigation into possible corruption and bribery committed as part of BSGR’s acquisition of the exploration rights.
Steinmetz went in and out of court for years. But on Jan. 22, 2021, a Swiss criminal court found him guilty of corruption and forgery. It sentenced him to five years in jail and a sizable fine of 50 million Swiss francs ($56.48 million), Reuters reported.
Alongside two accomplices, Steinmetz was accused of paying or arranging $10 million in bribes between 2006 and 2010 to Mamadie Toure, whom prosecutors identified as one of Conte’s wives.
The payments were made to obtain exploration permits for iron ore in the Simandou fields and to forge cover-up documents through a web of companies and bank accounts.
The presiding judge Alexandra Banna said the defendants used fake accounts and attempted to have incriminating documents destroyed to hide their criminal behavior.
Some background on Steinmetz
Steinmetz is an Israeli diamond tycoon and the founder of BSGR, an embattled mining company with a presence in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
His company is a globally diversified mining and energy company with additional interests in real estate. It employs over 100,000 people.
Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion as of 2019.