When Beny Steinmetz was detained in Greece on an international arrest warrant, it came as somewhat of a surprise. The Israeli billionaire, who arrived by private jet into Athens, had previously been convicted of bribery in Romania and Switzerland. However, according to his lawyer, the detention was unexpected, and an error of the European Police authority, Interpol.
Steinmetz made his money in the diamond trade, before securing the rights to the Simandou mine in Geneva, the world’s richest untapped iron-ore deposit in Guinea. This investment should have been his crowning glory but instead it sparked years of legal headaches that culminated in a European court conviction for bribing Guinean officials.
The verdict was a major blow to Steinmetz, who is now fighting multiple legal battles around the world relating to the West African mine, which was first acquired in 2008. The asset was stripped from him in 2012, amid allegations of paying bribes of $8.5 million to Mamadie Toure, the wife of Guinea’s former president Lansana Conte, now deceased.
The way in which he was convicted provides some insight into the risk of conducting business abroad. Judge Banna suggested that making a profit of billions from an initial investment of $160 million was in itself sufficient evidence of corruption, adding in her closing remarks; “the fact that Steinmetz wasn’t aware of all details doesn’t change a thing.”
At the time of his conviction, Steinmetz’s lawyer said the five year jail sentence would be appealed because Steinmetz never took part in bribery and the court didn’t properly consider the fragility of the testimony against him. However, for the moment Steinmetz must remain in Greece, as it may take 90 days for a court hearing to address the Interpol discrepancy.