Police searched Geneva home of billionaire Steinmetz

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Swiss police searched the Geneva residence of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz last month as part of an investigation into mining rights in Guinea, a spokesman for BSG Resources, the mining arm of his conglomerate, said on Thursday.

The spokesman said Steinmetz was cooperating with Swiss authorities, who were acting on a request from the government of Guinea.

The West African country has accused BSG Resources (BSGR) of paying bribes to obtain its concessions under a previous government. It is reviewing the company's right to mine half of Simandou, one of the world's largest untapped iron ore deposits.

BSGR denies it paid bribes for its concession, and has criticised the government for trying to renege on its obligations.

Nothing was taken from the property after the search, completed last month when Swiss police also raided the offices of Onyx Financial Advisers, which provides management services for BSGR, the spokesman said.

Geneva police declined to comment on Thursday.

The Geneva-based prosecutor's office has confirmed that an investigation is underway following a request from Guinea for judicial aid but has declined to give further details.

In a statement, Steinmetz connected the Swiss searches to the arrest of two local employees of BSGR who have been detained without charge in Guinea's capital Conakry for five months, and to what he says are efforts by the government to illegally expropriate mining rights.

"In an attempt to justify their continued illegal detention, the government of Guinea has sent direct requests to the Swiss authorities to collect information on its behalf," BSGR said in a statement.

Steinmetz's lawyer, Marc Bonnant said in a statement that Steinmetz had "offered to collaborate with the Swiss authorities, is cooperating fully, and is very happy to do so."

As part of a U.S. corruption probe involving Guinea, FBI agents in April arrested BSGR agent Frederic Cilins, on charges of obstructing a criminal investigation, tampering with a witness and destroying records.

In federal court in New York on Thursday, prosecutors said they had obtained from Guinea original contracts central to their case that they accuse Cilins of trying to destroy. The contracts provide evidence of payments "for the purpose of obtaining valuable mining rights in Guinea," prosecutors said in a court document.

A lawyer for Cilins argued that his client should be allowed to test the authenticity of the contracts.

A prosecutor said on Thursday that whether or not the contracts are authentic has no bearing on his intent to destroy them.

Cilins' trial is slated to begin December 2.

"These documents are at the core of the case," said Cilins' lawyer, William Schwartz. "They can't hide them."

(Reporting by Clara Ferreira-Marques, Emma Farge and Tom Miles. Additional reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Carol Bishopric)

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