Swiss court finds Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz guilty of corruption

Israeli billionaire Steinmetz leaves courthouse in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) – A Swiss criminal court found Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz guilty of corruption on Friday and sentenced him to five years in jail, delivering a landmark verdict in one of the mining world’s most high-profile legal disputes.

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Steinmetz said he would appeal the ruling, which also included a 50 million Swiss francs ($56.48 million) fine.

“It is a big injustice,” he told reporters outside the Geneva courthouse.

The ruling followed a two-week trial of Steinmetz and two others variously accused of paying or arranging payment of $10 million in bribes to obtain exploration permits for the world’s richest uptapped deposits of iron ore and of forging documents to cover it up through a web of shell companies and bank accounts. They denied the charges.

Steinmetz’s co-defendants, a French man and a Belgian woman, were also found guilty of corruption and were given a 3-1/2 year jail sentence and a two-year suspended sentence, respectively.

The battle for control of the iron ore, buried in the remote Simandou mountain range of Guinea, has triggered probes and litigation around the world and thwarted efforts to extract the lucrative commodity.

Central to Steinmetz’s defence was his claim that he was not involved in the day-to-day running of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR). He described himself as the owner and company ambassador but not the boss of the group that employs some 100,000.

($1 = 0.8852 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Barbara Lewis and Carmel Crimmins)