Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz has been given a five-year jail sentence by a court in Geneva, in a trial described as the mining sector’s biggest-ever corruption case.
The trial threw a spotlight on an often murky struggle for control of Africa’s natural resources.
Steinmetz, a former diamond magnate who also holds French citizenship, was convicted of bribing public officials in Guinea, in order to gain control of the country’s iron ore deposits.
The court also ordered him to pay compensation of 50m Swiss francs (£41m; $56m) to the state of Geneva.
“It is clear from what has been presented… that the rights were obtained through corruption and that Steinmetz co-operated with others,” to obtain them, Chief Justice Alexandra Banna told the court, according to AFP news agency.
Steinmetz, who has always denied bribery, condemned the verdict as a “big injustice”. He plans to challenge the verdict and will not go to jail pending the appeal, his lawyer said.
The Simandou mines, in south-eastern Guinea, are estimated to be the most valuable untapped iron ore deposits in the world.
The case dates back to 2006 when, according to the prosecution, the businessman, working for a company called Beny Steinmetz Resources Group (BSGR), paid bribes so that BSGR could acquire mining rights in Simandou. These had originally been held by mining giant Rio Tinto.
The trial took place in Switzerland because Mr Steinmetz lived in Geneva until 2016, and ran businesses there. Some of the bribes, the prosecution said, were paid through Swiss banks.
Key witnesses and hot shot lawyers
Steinmetz now lives in Israel, but travelled to Geneva to appear in court in person, hiring one of Geneva’s most high-profile lawyers, Marc Bonnant, to defend him.
The court found that Steinmetz, 64, and his two co-defendants had paid $8,5m (£6,2m) in bribes to a wife of Guinea’s late president Lansana Conté, who died in 2008. They were found guilty of setting up elaborate schemes to hide the link between BSGR and Conté’s fourth wife, Mamadie Touré. She had been scheduled to appear in court herself but did not turn up. She now lives in the United States.
Defence lawyer Mr Bonnant told the trial that Steinmetz had never “paid a cent” to Ms Touré, and that anyway she was never actually legally married to President Conté, and therefore under Swiss law did not qualify as a bribable public official.
What’s more, Mr Bonnant said, some of the alleged bribes were paid after President Conté’s death, which made no sense at all: “How do you bribe a ghost?” he asked the court.
Only a ‘spokesperson’
But the prosecution presented evidence which, it said, proved there was a trail of bribery and corruption stretching from Geneva, via Liechtenstein, to the Virgin Islands and back again.
Another high-flying Geneva lawyer, chief prosecutor Yves Bertossa, scored points questioning Beny Steinmetz. Since it was a fact that BSGR had acquired the mining rights for Simandou, he asked, how did Mr Steinmetz not know about the financial transactions that led to that acquisition?
Beny Steinmetz, who cut a subdued figure in court, and sometimes, speaking in French, stumbled over his responses, insisted he had only been an “adviser” or a “spokesperson” for the company that bears his name.
When confronted with details of the alleged bribery, as well as transcripts of conversations, his frequent response was: “I don’t know. I wasn’t involved and I don’t know the details.”
Mr Bertossa produced details of a conversation (recorded by the FBI in 2013) in which one of Steinmetz’s co-defendants appeared to try to persuade Ms Touré to get rid of evidence of corruption, mentioning a certain person “up there” at BSGR who made all the decisions. “Who’s ‘up there’?” asked the prosecution.
“I don’t know who is up there,” replied the businessman. “There may be God, but not me.”
Even when the prosecution produced evidence of meetings, emails, and money transfers that allegedly proved bribery had taken place, Steinmetz denied all knowledge of them, leading Mr Bertossa to scoff that it seemed highly odd that Beny Steinmetz knew nothing about the workings of a company called Beny Steinmetz Resources Group.
Beny Steinmetz is no stranger to investigations into his financial affairs. He has been questioned at least once by Israeli authorities, and was recently convicted of money laundering (in absentia) in Romania, in a case believed to be linked to the Guinea bribery scandal.
For observers of the trial, including non-governmental organisations that for years have followed the tangled web of BSGR’s finances, the trial has been historic.
Agathe Duparc of Swiss NGO Public Eye, which focuses on big Swiss businesses and multinationals based in Switzerland, said the case had “starkly revealed the inner workings of international corruption, against the backdrop of one of the poorest countries in the world”.
While the trial had sent a strong signal to the commodities sector, it also showed that Switzerland should tackle legal loopholes that allowed such “predatory practices,” she said.
In fact this very public trial took place against a backdrop of other moves aimed at cleaning up Switzerland’s financial sector, and proving the country has put some of its more questionable financial practices behind it.
In November a nationwide referendum, which would have made businesses domiciled in Switzerland legally responsible for human rights violations and environmental damage along their supply chains anywhere in the world, won the popular vote but not the required number of cantons.
Nevertheless, the Swiss government, mindful of public opinion, has introduced new legislation for Swiss businesses, requiring them to report on human rights and environmental standards and conduct due diligence when it comes to child labour and mineral sourcing from conflict areas.
At the same time, Switzerland’s Attorney General is conducting painstaking investigations into global financial scandals in which there may have been some Swiss involvement, including Malaysian state wealth fund 1MDB and Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.
Just last week Swiss prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into money laundering and embezzlement linked to Lebanon’s Central Bank.
Big implications for mining industry
This case has much wider implications than the fate of Beny Steinmetz.
When BSGR acquired the Simandou mining rights, it did not extract any iron ore. A few years later, BSGR sold the mining rights to Brazilian multinational Vale for an estimated $2.5bn. Vale has yet to show an interest in Simandou either.
Businesses and their shareholders in places far from Guinea have done extremely well trading those mining rights.
The people of Guinea themselves have got precisely nothing – and the iron ore deposits, described by Agathe Duparc as “fabulous” resources, lie untouched, the Simandou region undeveloped and lacking in investment.
It’s a story that NGOs such as Public Eye insist is repeated across Africa. In the fight for control of highly valuable mineral resources, unscrupulous businesses see ways to get rich quick, and there is little control of their financial practices.
The bribery in Guinea only came to light when, after the death of President Lansana Conté, his democratically elected successor Alpha Condé ordered an audit into the Simandou mines.
It has been seven years since the Steinmetz investigation was opened.
This trial is now likely to bring more pressure on Switzerland to prevent what Public Eye calls “predatory practices that deprive the populations of resource-rich countries of essential revenues”.
Read from source|: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55748674
Magdalena Andersson: Sweden’s first female PM returns after resignation
bbc– Sweden’s first female prime minister has been reappointed to the top job after political turmoil forced her to resign within hours of taking the post last week.
MPs backed Social Democratic Party leader Magdalena Andersson by a narrow margin in a new vote on Monday.
She will attempt to lead a one-party government until an election in September next year.
She stood down as PM last Wednesday after her coalition collapsed.
Just hours earlier, Ms Andersson had been elected as Sweden’s first female prime minister by a single vote in parliament.
But the 54-year-old economist’s plan for forming a new coalition government with the Green Party was thrown into disarray when her budget proposal failed to pass.
- Sweden’s first female PM resigns hours after appointment
Instead, parliament voted for a budget drawn up by a group of opposition parties, including the far-right Sweden Democrats.
The Green Party said it would not accept a budget drafted by the far-right and walked away from the government, leading to its demise.
By convention, the prime minister in Sweden is expected to resign if a coalition party leaves government.
In Monday’s vote in Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, 101 of its 349 members voted yes, 75 abstained and 173 voted no.
To be appointed prime minister under Sweden’s political system, a candidate only needs to avoid a majority voting against them.
At a news conference after the vote, Ms Andersson said she was ready to “take Sweden forward” with a programme focused on welfare, climate change and crime.
But without the support of other parties, Ms Andersson will struggle to pass legislation in parliament, where the centre-left Social Democrats hold 100 of 349 seats.
After a week of drama, Magdalena Andersson’s prime ministerial career is back on track, but Sweden’s political soap opera is far from over.
Ms Andersson still has to implement a budget put together by some of her right-wing rivals. Plus, she’s got to govern a fragile minority without the formal support of the Greens, who’ve been a crucial coalition partner since 2014.
All this has highlighted the complexities of having a deeply divided eight-party parliament. Some political commentators here are worried that Ms Andersson’s chaotic rise to power may have dented trust in the entire political system.
Once formed, Ms Andersson’s new government will remain in place until general elections, which are set to take place in September next year. Until then, she’s got just over nine months to prove herself to the public.
A former junior swimming champion from the university city of Uppsala, Ms Andersson began her political career in 1996 as political adviser to then-Prime Minister Goran Persson.
She has spent the past seven years as finance minister before becoming leader of the Social Democrats at the start of November.
She replaced Stefan Lofven, who resigned as prime minister after seven years in power.
Until Ms Andersson took over, Mr Lofven had remained prime minister of a caretaker government after being ousted in an unprecedented vote of no confidence in June.
Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO
bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.
The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.
The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.
Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.
A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.
But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.
In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.
“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.
Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.
In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.
A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.
The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.
“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.
As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.
Liverpool bomb investigators ‘discovering more by the hour’ says security minister
independent– Security minister Damian Hinds has said counterterrorism police are “discovering more by the hour” about the Liverpool attack, as he suggested it was “not impossible” others could have been involved.
His remarks come after police named the failed bomber who died in the Liverpool Women’s Hospital explosion as 32-year-old Emad al-Swealmeen and the UK’s terror threat was raised to “severe” from “substantial”.
Addressing the situation, Mr Hinds stressed it could be “weeks” before the full picture of the attack is known, including the motivation and whether others were involved.
“It’s a live investigation and the police do have the space, the time, to be able to conduct that investigation fully and carry on their searches of the key address and carry on with the analysis,” he told Times Radio.
He said: “It’s not impossible that there could be other people involved. If that is the case, as the police said in their statement last night, they’ll make arrests quickly.
“I’m not in a position to be able to comment on the background of the individual, the deceased individual or to speculate about the case.”
In a separate interview on Sky News, the minister also said the Covid pandemic and lockdowns may have “exacerbated” the number of people self-radicalising online — an issue previously highlighted by experts.
He said: “It certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time, a shift from these what we call directed attacks, part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation, and move from that to more self-directed, some self-radicalised individuals or small groups, rarely totally, totally alone.”
He added: “There has been that move. During the lockdown periods there have been more people spending more time in front of computer screens and we know that when that happens for a very small minority, a very very small minority, there can be radicalisation.
“I’m afraid it’s not brand now — radicalisation, self-radicalisation on the internet, the propaganda, the way people make contact with each other, that is not a new development, but like a number of things the changes we saw through the coronavirus period, through lockdown changed the modus operandi and this case yes they will have exacerbated and increased the amount of time people are spending online”.
But he defended the decision to reduce the terror threat in February when quizzed on the issue, saying: “The alert level is determined independently of ministers — it’s not something I determine, or the Home Secretary determines.
“We have a body JTAC — Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre — who are experts in this area. They use the alert level the way that law enforcement, security services and others can calibrate what they are doing.
“We’ve been at a high alert for a very long time now and that’s the important,” he added.
Asked again on why the alert level was changed despite the risk of people becoming radicalised online during the pandemic, he added: “The alert level was substantial, meaning an attack was likely.”
He added: “These are not decisions that I made or ministers mind. We trust professionals and experts in the field. My opinion is that I absolutely trust them to make those correct judgments. “
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