We are Israelis and we know how to fight. We are not going to let it go.” Beny Steinmetz’s words to a tribunal in Paris two weeks ago capped a colourful testimony via videolink from Israel. The mining magnate’s rare public appearance was an attempt to clear his name and disentangle his company, Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR), from one of the industry’s biggest corruption scandals.
The two-week hearing at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ended on Friday, the latest chapter in a decade-long saga centred on the impoverished West African country of Guinea. It is, according to lawyers for Guinea, “an exceptional case of exceptional importance with evidence of corruption which is equally exceptional”.
The hearing at ICSID, two years in the making, came about because BSGR believes it was wrongfully stripped of its rights to mine in Guinea in 2014. The West African country claims that BSGR paid bribes to win access to Simandou, a giant, untapped deposit of iron ore; the miner has always denied wrongdoing.
It is now down to a panel of three arbiters to decide whether BSGR has any hope of reclaiming its assets or receiving compensation. But with investigations ongoing in multiple countries, is the story any closer to a conclusion? Simandou is seen as the archetype of the “resource curse” – the theory that developing countries are often unable to benefit from their natural riches.
Iron ore, used in steel, has made the fortunes of companies such as Rio Tinto of Australia and Vale of Brazil. Simandou is thought to be one of the richest sources of iron ore anywhere, and developing it could treble the size of Guinea’s meagre economy.
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