(GIN)—Lawyers for the firm of an Israeli mining exec have filed suit against a London-based watchdog that claims that bribery helped score valuable mining rights in the West African nation of Guinea and earn profits for the firm in the multi-billions.
The watchdog, Global Witness, investigates and campaigns against what it considers corruption in natural-resources sectors across the globe. Citing documents it obtained, Global Witness claims that bribes to corrupt officials in Guinea helped the mining firm, BSG Resources, win a valuable concession at almost no cost.
BSG Resources, led by billionaire Beny Steinmetz, denies any wrongdoing and accuses Global Witness and others, including the Guinean government, of pursuing a smear campaign to strip the concession they rightfully won from the prior government, led at the time by now-deceased dictator Lansana Conte.
The lawsuit, on behalf of four individuals connected to BSG Resources, charges that Global Witness failed to turn over source material for their investigative work.
Global Witness counters that this is an attempt to stifle journalism in the public interest.
In a rare interview with the Financial Times, Steinmetz said, “People don’t like success. It’s disturbing to people that the small David can disturb the big Goliath.” He said that it was his company’s strategy to pursue “opportunities in an aggressive way,” adding, “You have to get your hands dirty.”
The Steinmetz company is linked to investigations in several countries over its Guinean operations, including the U.S., which is probing for potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Steinmetz, said to be the richest man in Israel, obtained the rights to Simandou—“the top undeveloped iron-ore asset in the world”—after Guinean officials cancelled the rights held by Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto and transferred them at no charge to BSG. Steinmetz sat on the rights and then flipped them to a new buyer from Brazil. Total profit on almost no investment will exceed $5 billion—five times Guinea’s annual budget.
A stunned Sudanese telecom billionaire, Mo Ibrahim, asked aloud, “Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?”
“The Western world has always thought of Africa as a continent to take things from,” observed Patrick Radden Keefe in a New Yorker magazine piece in July, “whether it was diamonds, rubber or slaves. This outlook was inscribed into the very names of Guinea’s neighbor Côte d’Ivoire and of Ghana, which was known to its British masters as the Gold Coast.”
The claim against Global Witness was filed last month. There is no return date on the cast at this time.
Category: Africa Briefs