Mining tycoon puts SFO back in dock

 

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The Independent Online

The Serious Fraud Office, still reeling from its bungled investigation into the Tchenguiz brothers, is being sued by BSGR, the mining empire of the controversial diamond billionaire Beny Steinmetz.

Mr Steinmetz has also filed against the Home Secretary Theresa May. He is demanding a judicial review to stop the UK authorities co-operating in a corruption inquiry against BSGR.

The Israeli tycoon, who made his billions mining for diamonds and minerals in Africa, has faced numerous allegations of corruption. BSGR is now the subject of a criminal investigation in the impoverished west African country of Guinea over claims it made bribes to win lucrative mining contracts there. It denies the allegations.

Yesterday it emerged that the SFO has demanded  swathes of private documentation on behalf of Guinea from Mr Steinmetz’s company in London. The details came to light as BSGR lodged an application for a judicial review of the decision by the SFO and the Home Office to help the Guinea probe.

Mr Steinmetz’s company claims it is the victim of a politically motivated attack in Guinea, where the Government of President Conde has stripped it of lucrative mining awarded by the previous regime.

BSGR contends that the UK Government and fraud prosecutor offered their assistance illegally, to what he described as a “corrupt government”,

The application reveals that the SFO’s demands for information on behalf of Guinea first arrived in July.

Global Witness, the NGO that has been investigating and exposing alleged wrongdoing by Mr Steinmetz’s businesses in the awarding of mineral rights in Guinea’s Simandou region, welcomed the confirmation of the SFO’s engagement. A spokesman for Global Witness said it was  “a positive development and could prove key to unravelling the truth behind the Simandou scandal, given the strong London connections of the company and its associates.”

Mr Steinmetz’s company claims that Mr Conde sought to reward the financial backers behind his 2010 election campaign with mining rights taken from BSGR. These allegations have been strenuously denied by Mr Conde, whose government is being assisted in its nation-building attempts by other NGOs, including one led by Tony Blair.

Mr Steinmetz, who is believed to be under investigation in other jurisdictions, claims the SFO made unreasonable demands for the disclosure of information about his business empire. The SFO declined to comment.

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