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Steinmetz detained in Israel for Guinea bribe investigation

Authorities in Israel detained billionaire Beny Steinmetz for questioning about money laundering in connection with bribes allegedly paid to officials in Guinea for mining rights.

A spokesperson for Steinmetz’s company, BSG Resources, reportedly confirmed Monday that Steinmetz had been detained for questioning, Reuters said.

In the United States last week, the DOJ charged Guinea’s former mining minister with laundering $8.5 million in bribes he allegedly took from a Chinese conglomerate in exchange for mining rights.

The DOJ didn’t identify the Chinese company.

Mahmoud Thiam, 50, a U.S. citizen living in New York City, was arrested Tuesday and charged with two counts of money laundering.

Thiam was Guinea’s minister of mines from early 2009 until late 2010.

In 2014, a French citizen who used to work for BSGR, was sentenced to two years in prison for obstructing a U.S. investigation into bribery allegations involving Simandou, the biggest undeveloped iron ore project in the world.

Frederic Cilins pleaded guilty in federal court in New York.

He tried to obstruct an ongoing grand jury investigation into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering laws.

Cilins was heard in recorded phone calls and meetings agreeing to bribe Mamadie Toure, a widow of former Guinea President Lansana Conte, so she would give him documents to be destroyed.

BSGR has always denied any wrongdoing.

Steinmetz has traded allegations of bribery with London-based global mining giant Rio Tinto. Both sides have alleged the other resorted to bribery to win rights to Simandou.

Rio Tinto said in a U.S. securities filing last month that it suspended the chief executive of its energy and minerals division while it investigates more than $10.5 million paid to a consultant for the Simandou project.

Last week BSG Resources sent a letter to Rio Tinto demanding damages for causing BSGR to lose the Simandou mining rights.

Thiam, the former Guinea mining minister, told Bloomberg in a phone interview last month that Rio Tinto had offered him a bribe.

Thiam said Steven Din, formerly head of Rio Tinto’s Guinea operation, offered the bribe in early 2010 to win back control of half of the Simandou project.

Rio Tinto and Din denied the allegations.

In a statement Monday, BSGR said: “It is BSGR’s strong belief that these allegations of bribery by the Government of Guinea are not only baseless, but are a systematic attempt by the Government of Guinea to cover up the endemic corruption which has blighted this country for a number of years.”

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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