The prize is a chunk of African earth that yields some of the most valuable diamonds on the planet for premium jeweler Tiffany & Co.
The fight for the Koidu mine in Sierra Leone pits embattled Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz and his BSG Resources Ltd. against a government struggling to revive an economy crippled by the global commodities slump and Ebola’s deadliest outbreak ever.
But waiting in the wings are two high-profile bankers and a star of “The Hunger Games” movie franchise who are keen to buy the asset. Add to the plot a secret recording of Steinmetz’s now-former point man for the project and what appears is a story of betrayal that offers a rare glimpse into the ways natural resources companies operate in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“I’m taking off my BSGR hat here,” the chief executive officer of Steinmetz’s BSGR, Brett Richards, told an August meeting of officials in Freetown, including Mines and Mineral Resources Minister Minkailu Mansaray.
“BSGR is certainly not the solution,” the BSGR chief said as he discussed stripping his company’s mining license for Koidu, according to an audio recording of the meeting heard by Bloomberg News. “The Jide group is the solution.”
The “Jide group” Richards referred to in championing a rival refers to Jide Zeitlin, a former senior Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker and his partner, Emmy-award winning American actor Jeffrey Wright who has mineral interests in Sierra Leone through Taia Lion Resources Inc.
The two investors, advised by former JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker Ian Hannam, had been trying to acquire the indebted mine from Steinmetz and wanted Sierra Leone’s approval.
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