Lawyer for Israeli magnate: Bribery trial ‘impossible’ due to witnesses’ absence

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — The trial of diamond dealer Beny Steinmetz for alleged corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea is “impossible” owing to the absence of key witnesses, his lawyer argued Monday.

French-Israeli magnate Steinmetz is on trial in Geneva, facing charges of bribery.

On Monday’s final day of evidence, the 64-year-old’s lawyer, Marc Bonnant, underscored the absence of Mamadie Toure, said by prosecutors to be the fourth wife of former Guinean president Lansana Conte.

Toure has admitted that she received payments and has protected witness status in the United States.

Summoned to Geneva Criminal Court, she did not appear — nor did a dozen other defense witnesses.

“I hold this trial to be impossible,” Bonnant told the court. “All those who were to appear are not here, and all those which are here should not be. Mamadie Toure, who is the one who is corrupt, is not here.”

He said Steinmetz should be acquitted, denying any “act of corruption,” and insisting that it was too late to pursue a case.

In Switzerland, the limitation for bringing forward a case of bribing a foreign public official is 15 years. But prosecutor Yves Bertossa said there was “no problem of limitation,” because “payments stretch until 2012.”

Mamadie Toure. (2006 screenshot)

Steinmetz is accused of setting up a complex financial web, including a system of front companies, to pay bribes so that Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) could obtain mining permits in Guinea’s southeastern Simandou region, which is estimated to contain the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposits.

Conte’s military dictatorship ordered global mining giant Rio Tinto to relinquish two concessions to BSGR for around $170 million in 2008.

Steinmetz insists he never asked anyone to pay money to Toure. Prosecutors allege that about $10 million (8.2 million euros) was paid in bribes between 2006 and 2012, in part through Swiss bank accounts.

Steinmetz, who lived in Geneva at the time of the alleged offenses, accused Toure of lying. His lawyers said she was not Conte’s wife, but instead a mistress with no influence, and therefore, under Swiss law, did not fall within the scope of a corruptible official. Steinmetz’s legal team said no marriage certificate had been produced.

“She doesn’t recall the date, the venue, nor the people who attended this wedding,” said defense lawyer Camille Haab. “No photos or video were taken on this supposed occasion,” while Toure’s diplomatic passport was not issued until many years after her “presumed marriage.”

Furthermore, Toure “was not a public official,” whether a legitimate wife or otherwise, added her colleague Bonnant.

Prosecutors have sought five years in prison for Steinmetz and the confiscation of 50 million Swiss francs ($56 million, 46 million euros) if the diamond magnate is convicted.

Two business partners are being tried as well, and the verdict is expected on Friday.

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