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Transactions that helped Beni Steinmetz deal with the consequences of bribery Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Transactions that helped Beni Steinmetz deal with the consequences of bribery

Benny Steinmetz bribed the wife of the president of a West African country, and his company gained control of iron ore deposits worth billions of dollars.

When Steinmetz’s machinations were exposed, proceedings began in courts around the world.

Then he and his firms entered into a series of deals with companies associated with Greek entrepreneur Sabbi Mionis. These deals helped Steinmetz protect his assets and fend off his opponents.

Mining business mogul Beny Steinmetz spent more than a decade battling damning headlines, defrauding former business partners and battling multiple lawsuits and investigations.

The wiry 68-year-old with a penchant for risky deals has been arrested in three countries - most recently in Cyprus. At the end of 2023, he spent almost a month in prison there. He was prepared for extradition, but in the end he won the case.

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His most serious problems with the law arose in Switzerland. In 2021, a criminal court in Geneva found that Steinmetz and his accomplices paid millions of dollars to the wife of the President of Guinea to obtain rights to develop iron ore deposits. Steinmetz’s company quickly sold half of the mines, receiving billions of dollars.

Timeline of mining scandals uriqzeiqqiuhkmp tidttiqzqiqkdvls uqidrxiridzatf
 

Steinmetz denied all accusations of corruption, saying in a Geneva court: “I am not guilty and I have nothing to reproach myself with.” He was sentenced to three years in prison, but appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court.

OCCRP can now reveal how a Bahamas-registered company, Global Special Opportunities Limited (GSOL), struck deals with Steinmetz’s companies as the tycoon came under pressure over bribery allegations in Guinea. Reporters found that on at least five occasions GSOL (or other firms controlled by its founder, Greek businessman Sabbi Mionis) took action to help the tycoon.

There is no suggestion or evidence that Mionis, his companies or their management did anything illegal. However, he took advantage of the opportunity when Steinmetz tried to escape the consequences of the alleged bribery. Both businessmen claim that the transactions were concluded officially and on commercial grounds. But they ended up helping Steinmetz fight off creditors and law enforcement.

OCCRP laid out the facts and detailed the sophisticated strategies that Steinmetz and his firms developed when the mining scandal broke.

Steinmetz scandals

This story is part of an OCCRP investigative project on mining tycoon Beni Steinmetz and the two scandals that led to his prison sentences in Switzerland and Romania.

Steinmetz appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court and is now awaiting a decision. Meanwhile, OCCRP reviewed thousands of court records, corporate records and real estate documents and conducted dozens of interviews to piece together the tycoon’s controversial activities.

OCCRP found that Steinmetz and Mionis’ companies did business together in North Macedonia, the United States and West Africa. In an interview with OCCRP, Mionis said he was simply friends with Steinmetz, as with many other businessmen.

Sabby Mionis during interview

Sabbi Mionis gives an interview to the Israeli TV channel i24NEWS

GSOL was registered in 2009. It initially invested in “hedge funds, distressed loans, litigation” and other areas, GSOL director Marcos Camhis told OCCRP. For the first five years, almost nothing was known about the company. “We didn’t have to advertise anything,” Kamhis said.

The first available data on GSOL’s commercial activities dates back to 2015. Then the company took part in the auction to buy a company associated with Steinmetz. Shortly before this, Steinmetz faced the first serious legal consequences of alleged bribery in Guinea. In April 2014, the new government of Guinea stripped Steinmetz of his iron ore mining rights after discovering that he had obtained them through a bribe. The move prompted a string of lawsuits from the tycoon’s competitors and former partners, accompanied by anti-corruption investigations in several countries.

GSOL’s transactions with Steinmetz’s firms helped the company become a globally significant player in the mining and metals industries.

OCCRP reporters reviewed court records, as well as corporate and cadastral records, to uncover documented evidence linking Mionis and GSOL to Steinmetz. They found numerous cases around the world where the actions of GSOL and Mionis helped Steinmetz.

  • October 2015: When the flagship company of Israeli entrepreneur Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) got into a dispute with a business partner over a nickel smelter in North Macedonia, a firm owned by two GSOL directors funneled millions of dollars to BSGR in an unsuccessful attempt to take control of the smelter. In 2019, the plant was bought by GSOL itself.
  • Late 2016/early 2017: GSOL became the main creditor of the Steinmetz diamond mine in Sierra Leone, purchasing the mine’s $136 million debt from Standard Chartered Bank and US jewelry manufacturer Tiffany & Co. Court documents indicate that Steinmetz and BSGR helped GSOL buy the debt at a rock-bottom price, protecting the mine from seizure.
  • November 2017: GSOL founder Mionis’s offshore firm financed a $20 billion lawsuit BSGR filed in New York against billionaire philanthropist George Soros. BSGR later listed the expected proceeds from the claim (which was eventually dismissed) as a major future asset to avoid liquidation: the company was declared insolvent in early 2018.
  • November 2017: Another Mionis company partnered with an American firm to buy a Chicago skyscraper for $86.4 million. Mionis claims that Steinmetz had no stake in the partner firm, but corporate documents obtained by OCCRP indicate that the tycoon’s representatives played a key role in the deal, which resulted in him owning a minority stake.
  • February 2019: A subsidiary of GSOL participated in the negotiation of a preliminary settlement agreement between Guinea and BSGR. As a result, Guinea refused to act as a plaintiff in the criminal case against Steinmetz, which is being considered in Geneva. The preliminary agreement mentions Steinmetz’s partnership with GSOL in a new profitable mining venture.

Through his lawyer, Steinmetz said he "does not control GSOL" and neither GSOL nor its affiliates acted as his agents or intermediaries. He said he "has never had any interest, direct or indirect, in GSOL or any of its subsidiaries." There is no suggestion that GSOL or its executives were trustees of Steinmetz or his companies.

Steinmetz has consistently denied allegations of bribery in Guinea and called the arrests politically motivated.

Lawyers for Mionis and Kamhis said their clients “did not help cover up” for Mr. Steinmetz and “did not fight his battles.” And their investment decisions were made based on the merits of each investment.”

GSOL’s lawyer said the company "does not represent and has not represented BSGR, Mr. Steinmetz or any of the related parties."

Beny Steinmetz

Benny Steinmetz

Steinmetz’s opponent pointed to GSOL

Among Steinmetz’s enemies is the Brazilian mining giant Vale SA.

In 2010, Vale agreed to pay $2.5 billion for a 51 percent stake in mining rights in Guinea that Steinmetz’s BSGR had acquired. But four years later, the Guinean government revoked the development rights of both BSGR and Vale.

Vale said BSGR repeatedly lied about alleged bribery to secure investment from the Brazilian miner and blamed it for its huge losses. In 2019, Vale won a case in the London Court of International Arbitration, and BSGR was ordered to pay compensation in the amount of two billion dollars. However, BSGR said it was insolvent.

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So far, Vale has failed to force BSGR to pay two billion dollars, and for more than a year there has been no progress in the proceedings.

Vale fought in US courts to try to force BSGR to pay, with lawyers for the Brazilian firm arguing that companies linked to GSOL and Mionis were part of a scheme "apparently designed to make BSGR’s assets inaccessible to creditors".

Vale later withdrew some of its claims in a joint statement dated April 2023, saying that the documents it required Mionis’ company to produce in court "contain no evidence" that Mionis, Kamhis or their associates acted as agents for Steinmetz. The documents also do not show that they "participated in efforts by Mr. Steinmetz or any of his entities to hide assets from creditors."

Mionis told OCCRP that this meant "Vale has abandoned its claims." In fact, Vale’s statement addressed only one part of the broader allegations and only one set of documents.

In October 2015, the firm of GSOL directors financed Steinmetz’s company

Steinmetz’s company and GSOL first collaborated in what is now North Macedonia, where BSGR was at odds with its partner, a major nickel ore producer.

FENI Industries AD was one of the crown jewels of Yugoslavia’s mining industry until the country disintegrated in the early 1990s. BSGR bought FENI in the mid-2000s together with the mining company International Mineral Resources (IMR), which is owned by Kazakh billionaires Alexander Mashkevich, Patokh Shodiev and Alidzhan Ibragimov, also known as the “Kazakh trio”.

But by 2015, production was on the verge of bankruptcy. Relations between BSGR and IMR soured, and there were disputes within the board of directors about the direction of FENI.

Then Bahamas-registered Tower View Asset Management Ltd. appeared on the scene. In March 2015, a company partly owned by Kamhis and officially acting as an "investment adviser" to GSOL offered $150 million for Cunico Resources NV, FENI’s holding company. IMR rejected the offer.

Six months later, BSGR and IMR sought a settlement in Amsterdam, where Cunico was registered. The intermediaries gave Cunico shareholders—Steinmetz and the trio—the opportunity to buy new shares and become majority owners. To participate in the auction, each company had to deposit five million dollars within a few days.

Tower View Asset Management provided BSGR with the required amount.

Mionis and Kamhis told OCCRP that BSGR’s bid was funded by the GSOL group of companies. “We were looking to acquire the company, so any financing or discussion was focused on buying it” from BSGR, Kamhis said.

However, IMR of the “Kazakh trio” won the auction and pledged to invest tens of millions of dollars in Cunico. IMR and its parent company increased their share from 50 to about 90 percent, while BSGR’s share decreased from 50 to about 10 percent.

But GSOL did not abandon FENI: despite the new ownership structure, the production was going through difficult times.

In October 2017, FENI’s creditors demanded that the company be declared bankrupt. At the beginning of 2018, GSOL intervened in the matter. She began managing FENI, and in 2019 she completely bought out the production.

Possible conflict of interest during bankruptcy proceedings

The lawsuit, which was filed against BSGR by one of the former partners, states that the Deputy Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Koco Angushev, participated in negotiations related to the bankruptcy process of FENI. Angushev was also one of the key creditors of FENI, investing money through his company Energy Delivery Solutions SA

According to a former top manager, FENI’s daily energy consumption cost approximately 120 thousand euros. FENI was unable to repay its debts to Angushev’s company, which became an important factor on the company’s path to bankruptcy. In September 2017, several weeks before FENI’s bankruptcy proceedings began, Energy Delivery Solutions filed a petition to freeze FENI’s bank accounts and assets.

Miša Popović of the North Macedonian human rights group Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” Skopje raised the issue of a conflict of interest: “Since FENI owed money to a company whose main owner was Angushev, then he should have been removed from participation in solving FENI’s problems,” he said.

A spokesman for Angushev’s firm, Fero Invest DOO, said claims of a link between his client and FENI’s bankruptcy were "unjustified and erroneous."

In December 2023, the United States banned Angushev from entering the country for “large-scale corruption.” The explanation stated that he “abused his official position for the benefit of his private business,” but it was unclear whether this was related to FENI. Angushev strongly denies these accusations.

The bankruptcy was also called “illegal” and “deliberate” in an expert report by corporate law professor Dimitar Gelev, who helped develop local bankruptcy laws in the 1990s. The report was ordered by a subsidiary of IMR: the company attached it to a claim in the World Bank arbitration court regarding lost investments. (Claims between the IMR subsidiary and North Macedonia were settled in 2020.)

GSOL denies that the bankruptcy was illegal or deliberate. "GSOL’s acquisition of FENI has been thoroughly vetted and certified" by the local court and approved by creditors, the company said.

But GSOL owned FENI (which was renamed Euronickel) for a relatively short time. Against the backdrop of a sharp increase in electricity prices and conflicts with suppliers, the company again began to have financial problems. In December 2023, the company’s largest creditor, Komercijalna Banka, bought the production as part of a forced sale, and in March agreed to sell it to a Turkish conglomerate.

IMR did not respond to questions sent by email.

Steinmetz’s lawyer did not directly answer questions about whether GSOL financed the BSGR bid, but called any suggestion of irregularities related to FENI and the IMR dispute "baseless."

In September 2016, GSOL became Steinmetz’s largest diamond lender

While BSGR was fighting for a nickel plant in Macedonia, the company faced a serious threat from its former partner Vale.

In April 2014, Guinea revoked BSGR and Vale’s mining licenses, resulting in Vale filing arbitration proceedings against BSGR in London.

Steinmetz argued that his company was not to blame for the revocation of licenses, and that the bribery charges were based on “fake contracts.” But since August 2016, BSGR has been losing ground: company representatives do not appear at hearings and are seeking the dismissal of arbitrators because they are allegedly biased.

If BSGR had lost the case, it would have had to compensate Vale for its losses by transferring its assets to its former partner, including its most valuable, the Koidu diamond mine in Sierra Leone.

The largest diamond mine in Sierra Leone

Koidu, the largest diamond mine in Sierra Leone

But even before the arbitration tribunal made its decision, through a complex series of transactions, GSOL acquired the rights to the mine. That is, in the event of confiscation of the mine, GSOL will now be first in line, ahead of any BSGR creditor, including Vale.

Under the terms of the agreement, GSOL purchased the debt obligations of the Koidu mine at a significant discount.

The debts were bought because in mid-2015, Octea Ltd., the parent company of the Koidu mine, defaulted on payments to its main creditors, Standard Chartered Bank and jewelry manufacturer Tiffany & Co. Under the terms of the financing agreement, Standard Chartered had the right to seize the mine to repay the loan.

But in September 2016, GSOL bought $92 million of the mine’s debt from the bank, paying only $14 million, and became the main creditor of the Koidu mine instead of the bank. The mine itself became the collateral.

Mionis told OCCRP that the idea of buying the debt first came to him “during a conversation with Steinmetz.”

“I realized that it was a difficult situation there, and trouble always inspires me... So I told Marcos [Camhis], ‘Get it sorted out there.’" According to Kamhis, one of Steinmetz’s top managers, Doug Cramer, took him to his first meeting with Standard Chartered. Mionis and Kamhis claim that GSOL saved the Koidu mine from being seized by the bank.

But court records raise questions about the commercial meaning of the deal for BSGR and whether BSGR and GSOL acted independently. According to the documents, BSGR has agreed to make a $16 million “settlement payment” to Standard Chartered, which will rise to $74.5 million if it is not paid on time. It was assumed that the payment would ensure repayment of the loan and exit from the transaction. Documents also indicate that BSGR may have financed the purchase of debt by GSOL. (BSGR has not sent payment to Standard Chartered, according to the latest data available.)

Years later, Standard Chartered and Vale expressed concern that GSOL and Steinmetz’s companies may have acted in concert.

Before purchasing the mine’s debt, its parent company Octea promised GSOL $15.3 million. According to Standard Chartered and Vale, the amount was ultimately paid by Steinmetz’s family company. The payment prompted Standard Chartered to write to BSGR management that the deal between GSOL and the BSGR group of companies "was not a third party agreement".

Lawyers for GSOL, Mionis and Kamhis told OCCRP there was "nothing illegal" about the deal and their clients did not collude with BSGR to buy the debt.

Steinmetz’s lawyer said all deals were "on standard commercial terms" and Steinmetz is not involved in the management of the Koidu mine because BSGR is under a special form of management. He noted that Koidu “respects the best practices of the mining industry.”

The bank raises questions about the purchase of debt obligations

In London, during the cross-examination of Doug Kramer, the chief executive of one of Steinmetz’s companies, Vale’s lawyer referred to documents from which it follows that Steinmetz’s company allegedly financed GSOL’s purchase of Koidu mine debt from Standard Chartered Bank.

Standard Chartered Bank did not comment on the debt transactions, citing a “commitment to confidentiality,” and Tiffany did not answer questions from reporters. But there are no suggestions of violations on the part of previous creditors. Doug Cramer said he was "not involved in any discussions" with the GSOL group regarding the debts.

Timeline of diamond debt deals
 

November 2017: Mionis financed Steinmetz’s major lawsuit against Soros

While debt deals were being negotiated in Sierra Leone, Steinmetz’s affairs were going from bad to worse due to allegations of bribery in Guinea.

His role in the iron mine deal began to be studied in Geneva, and in December 2016 the tycoon was placed under house arrest in Israel, where police were also investigating the case. As a result, Israeli authorities released him without bringing any charges.

In April 2017, BSGR filed a lawsuit against George Soros in New York: he was diverting attention from Steinmetz’s alleged role in the Guinea bribery case and would ultimately help protect BSGR’s assets.

George Soros

George Soros

OCCRP found that Mionis financed the lawsuit. The lawsuit said Soros sabotaged BSGR’s mining business in Guinea through "fraud, illegal activities, slander and criminal violations." BSGR sought damages of at least $20 billion.

The company tried to shift the blame for all its problems to Soros, despite ample evidence that BSGR did pay bribes. This was later confirmed by two courts and the sentence that Steinmetz received in Switzerland.

According to court documents, Mionis financed the claim through a Bermuda-registered company, Litigation Solutions Ltd., which he formed a year earlier. Mionis told OCCRP that he formed the company "privately... for the purpose of financing the Soros litigation" and learned about the possibility of financing the lawsuit from David Barnett, Steinmetz’s staff lawyer. Litigation Solutions signed a claim financing agreement with BSGR in November 2017.

“My decision to invest in this lawsuit was based entirely on what I believed to be the merits of the case and had nothing to do with my opinion of Soros personally,” Mionis added.

In exchange for $15 million in funding, the companies were promised half the money they would win if the case was won, Doug Cramer said. According to affidavits from two other BSGR executives, Mionis’ company had priority over other BSGR creditors under the terms of the contract. This meant that if the case was successful, Litigation Solutions would receive payment before any other person or entity that lent money to BSGR.

Mionis said Litigation Solutions had to enter into a "competitive process with other litigation funding firms" and was then selected to sponsor the Soros case even though it "was the only bidder."

The lawsuit, which Mionis sponsored, would play a crucial role a few months later when BSGR moved into a form of administration that protected the assets from possible future creditors. Similar measures are taken in the event of bankruptcy in the United States. Under the new form of management, BSGR could avoid liquidation and continue to operate, counting on the fact that the case against Soros would be successful and return the company to solvency.

BSGR needed such insurance after the company lost an arbitration case against Guinea in early 2018.

For four days, forensic experts huddled in a temporary laboratory in New York, examining contracts that allegedly described how BSGR and its intermediaries promised to pay Mamadi Toure, the wife of Guinea’s late president.

Steinmetz and BSGR argued that the contracts were fraudulent, but in the final report, court-appointed experts concluded that there was no evidence of fraud, and some of the incriminating documents were signed by BSGR executives and their intermediaries.

There was a danger that BSGR would lose both arbitration cases - not only against Guinea, but also against Vale, since both claims relied on the same allegations of bribery.

But in March 2018, before the arbitration panel made its decision, BSGR said it was unable to pay creditors and sought a court order to appoint a receiver in the British Crown Dependency of Guernsey, where the company is registered.

Doug Cramer told Bloomberg it was an asset protection strategy as the company fought in court over cases related to a bribery scandal in Guinea.

“We are not at the stage of liquidation, no one is forcing this on us,” he said then. “It’s raising the drawbridge, filling the ditch with water and populating the ditch with sharks.”

To avoid liquidation and the sale of assets to pay off debts to creditors, BSGR had to prove that the company could become profitable again. As a trump card, BSGR presented a lawsuit paid for by Mionis against Soros, saying that it expects to win billions in this case. The Guernsey Court accepted this logic.

In January 2021, during the Soros trial, the judge asked for documents to determine whether the company [BSGR] "bribed representatives or partners of the government of Guinea" to obtain mineral rights, and whether this prevents BSGR from claiming that it was harmed from the actions of Soros. By that time, Litigation Solutions had stopped funding the proceedings. According to Mionis, the company spent four million dollars.

“I was optimistic and got carried away. This is wrong, and I learned my lesson: I should look into the matter more carefully,” Mionis told OCCRP. “When I felt there was no chance, the obvious solution was to pull the plug.”

“They tried to find someone else [to fund the suit] but they couldn’t...So the case was closed as soon as I stopped funding,” he added. In October 2021, a New York court dismissed the lawsuit.

Steinmetz’s lawyer said his client "was not involved in the financing negotiations" with Litigation Solutions and blamed the failure on "the failure of BSGR management... to resolve financing issues." According to him, Steinmetz is “confident” that if the case were continued, there would be more evidence of “illegal interference” by Soros.

Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Soros, said all of Steinmetz’s allegations were false and were rejected by both the arbitration court and the judges hearing Steinmetz’s criminal case in Switzerland.

Attorney David Barnett, who represented Steinmetz and BSGR, did not respond to questions about the matter.

November 2017: Mionis, together with a company associated with Steinmetz, buys a skyscraper in Chicago

According to US court documents between Vale and BSGR, Steinmetz and Mionis jointly owned luxury real estate in Chicago. We are talking about a skyscraper in the business center of the city, the Magnificent Mile area.

500 North Michigan Avenue

 

The building at 500 North Michigan Avenue, which was bought for $86 million by firms associated with Mionis, Steinmetz and others

On November 16, 2017, Mionis’ company Fine Arts partnered with a Delaware firm to purchase the skyscraper at 500 North Michigan Avenue for $86.4 million. Fine Arts bought 43.5 percent, and 500 NMA Acquisition Co. took a controlling stake of 56.5 percent. LLC registered in Delaware. 500 NMA belonged to another Delaware company, Perfectus Jerta JV LLC.

Delaware is a secretive jurisdiction where companies are not required to disclose the names of their ultimate owners. Mionis’ lawyers told OCCRP that at the time of the purchase, 500 NMA was owned entirely by Israeli real estate tycoon Amir Dayan and his family. In an interview with OCCRP, Mionis said that Steinmetz likely owned the asset "jointly with someone else" (he apparently meant Dayan’s family), but did not go into detail.

Mr Dayan’s lawyer said: "Mr Dayan does not own this property and has no connection with Beni Steinmetz." However, during the trial, documents related to the transfer of ownership were presented, and they indicate Dayan’s involvement. For example, in one email, Steinmetz spokesman Gregg Blackstock mentions a meeting with Dayan on October 5, 2017, where they discussed forming a joint venture that was eventually called Perfectus Jerta. In another email sent during the deal, Blackstock writes that "Dayan sent two transfers" worth tens of millions of dollars.

Journalists found that Steinmetz’s company paid more than five million dollars of the purchase price, and it owned at least 11.5 percent of the shares of Perfectus Jerta (500 NMA’s parent company). This is evidenced by documents provided to Vale by Mionis’s company Fine Arts, as well as a Swiss court ruling against Steinmetz. Steinmetz did not respond to questions from OCCRP about his involvement in the skyscraper deal.

The connection between Perfectus Jerta and Steinmetz can be traced through the management and the company name.

  • The head of Perfectus is listed as Gregg Blackstock, head of mergers and acquisitions at Steinmetz’s BSGR and director of several of his other companies.
  • Corporate records and real estate purchase documents show that Blackstock was a representative of 500 NMA along with Kenneth Henderson. In the US, Henderson acted as an adviser to the Steinmetz family foundation Balda, which owned BSGR. Blackstock signed the documents on behalf of the main buyer of the skyscraper, and Henderson was listed as the addressee for correspondence.
  • Blackstock and Henderson were also directors of Steinmetz’s companies Tarpley Belnord and its parent company Tarpley Property Holdings Inc. The companies changed their names to Perfectus Real Estate Corp. and Perfectus Real Estate Holdings on the same day - December 12, 2017. Judging by the documents, Tarpley Jerta also changed its name at the same time, becoming Perfectus Jerta.

“Even if we assume that Steinmetz had some interest in Tarpley/Perfectus, he invested the funds remotely and indirectly,” Mionis’ lawyers, who previously argued that Steinmetz was not among the beneficiaries of the building, told OCCRP. “Our clients did not know (or had no reason to ask) about the structure or beneficiaries of the companies that indirectly invested in the Dayan family investment project 500 NMA Acquisition Co. LLC."

Henderson declined to comment. His law firm, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said both Steinmetz and Tarpley were clients but declined to comment further. Blackstock did not respond to questions from OCCRP. In December 2021, Perfectus Real Estate Corp. stated in a civil lawsuit in New York court that Steinmetz is not its owner.

February 2019: GSOL helped negotiate deal with Guinea

By 2019, Steinmetz and BSGR were simultaneously pursuing the Soros case with cases against Guinea and Vale. Due to numerous criminal investigations, the Israeli businessman found himself in a difficult situation. Swiss prosecutors have already questioned him twice on allegations that he made corrupt payments under fictitious contracts as part of an alleged bribery in Guinea.

But in a surprise deal in February 2019, Guinea withdrew as a plaintiff in a criminal case in Switzerland and agreed to freeze arbitration proceedings pitting the country against BSGR. Steinmetz himself negotiated the deal, with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy acting as a mediator.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets President Alpha Condé of Guinea

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a meeting with Guinean President Alpha Condé in 2019. They discussed the planned settlement agreement between Guinea and Benny Steinmetz’s company BSGR

Under the terms of the deal, which was technically only preliminary, the Guinean government would receive $50 million from Niron Metals Plc (a subsidiary of GSOL) for iron ore rights to Zogota, a mine whose license was revoked when the alleged bribery became known.

Steinmetz was to become one of Niron’s co-investors in Zogot, according to a statement from Bobby Morse, the tycoon’s longtime representative. And "BS co. (Benny Steinmetz’s company) was to receive a 10-20 percent stake in the joint venture with Niron, according to a scheme drawn up by Steinmetz’s representatives, which was later presented as evidence in court. The preliminary agreement states that Steinmetz, referred to in the document as “adviser to BSGR,” introduced Niron to the Guinean government.

The agreement was signed by BSGR leaders and the Guinean government. Niron was not formally involved in this. But the company issued a solemn statement immediately after signing the preliminary agreement, and then entered into a memorandum of understanding with Liberia to export iron ore through its territory.

Through a lawyer, Steinmetz told OCCRP that he was "offered options at Niron on standard commercial terms." But Mionis denied this, telling OCCRP that there were no options.

“Neither Mr. Steinmetz nor any of his associated companies have a financial interest in or receive financial benefits from Niron,” GSOL lawyers said.

The agreement was preliminary, and BSGR management never agreed to its full implementation. However, the basic conditions soon came into force. Among other things, Guinean lawyers were sent instructions to withdraw from the Swiss criminal case against Steinmetz. This is evidenced by a letter from the country’s Prosecutor General dated July 2019, which OCCRP staff reviewed.

“Please note that the Republic of Guinea formally withdraws its participation as plaintiff against BSGR and Mr. Beny Steinmetz in the ongoing criminal proceedings in accordance with the terms of Article 3.2 of the settlement agreement,” the letter said.

Niron has yet to secure mining rights in Zogot, and Mionis doubts this will happen. “It’s been forever and I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “Niron has not paid Guinea $50 million,” Kamhis noted.

Representatives of Sarkozy and the Guinean government did not answer journalists’ questions.

Steinmetz’s legal team used the preliminary agreement to pressure Geneva prosecutors into abandoning the investigation, according to leaked correspondence.

In a letter to prosecutors, Steinmetz’s lawyer, Mark Bonnan, said Guinea determined Steinmetz did not pay or order the corrupt payments. Bonnan said the Niron deal suggests Guinea’s position has changed. However, this is an exaggeration. In fact, the agreement says nothing about Guinea waiving its claims. It said neither side accepted the other’s "statements or truth of remarks." A spokesman for Bonnan’s law firm said Bonnan would not comment due to client confidentiality obligations.

Attempts to disrupt the criminal investigation failed. In August 2019, Geneva prosecutors charged Steinmetz with foreign bribery. In January 2021, he was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison and a $56 million fine. In April 2022, after an appeal, the sentence was reduced to three years: the tycoon must spend half the term in prison, half the term on probation. He is currently appealing the bribery conviction to the Swiss Supreme Court.

In addition, in December 2022, Israeli authorities entered into an agreement with Steinmetz: he agreed to pay five million dollars in accordance with the country’s anti-money laundering law. This is stated in a statement by the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office.

Steinmetz continues to fight for his property and freedom.

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