Tycoon Beny Steinmetz's mining empire launches High Court battle to stop SFO aiding criminal investigation

The SFO is helping Guinea investigate his London-based BSGR empire over allegations of corruption related to his success in winning mining contracts in the country

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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 the controversial diamond billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s mining empire.

Mr Steinmetz has also filed against the Home Secretary Theresa May. He is demanding a judicial review to stop the UK authorities cooperating in a corruption inquiry against his BSGR mining group.

The 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. The company denies the allegations.

Today it emerged in BSGR’s legal filing that the Serious Fraud Office has demanded  swathes of private documentation on behalf of Guinea from Steinmetz’s company in London.

It was the first formal confirmation that the SFO had been assisting in Guinea’s probe.

The details emerged as BSGR lodged an application for a judicial review of the decision by the Serious Fraud Office and the Home Office, to help the Guinean probe.

Mr Steinmetz’s company claims it is the victim of a politically motivated attack back in Guinea, where the government of President Alpha 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”, and failed to consider Guinea’s political motivations.

The application reveals that the SFO’s demands for information on behalf of Guinea, known as Section 2 requests, first arrived in July.

Global Witness, the NGO which 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 GW said: “The Serious Fraud Office’s involvement in the BSGR case is 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 nationbuilding attempts by NGOs including that led by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Steinmetz, who is believed to be under investigation in other jurisdictions, claims  the SFO launched, with “draconian compulsory powers”, unreasonable demands for the disclosure of information about his business empire.

It did so, BSGR argues, without considering that the Guinean request was “made in bad faith” and was politically motivated, and that there was little chance of a fair trial against him in Guinea.

The SFO declined to comment.

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