Steinmetz trial: a landmark verdict in the fight against corruption «made in Switzerland»
Zurich, Lausanne, 4. April 2023
In a decision made public today, the Geneva Chamber of Appeal and Revision upheld the conviction of Beny Steinmetz for bribery of foreign public officials. The mining magnate, who has announced that he will lodge an appeal with the Federal Criminal Court, was sentenced to three years in prison (of which 18 months were suspended) and a compensation claim of CHF 50 million for having bribed Mamadie Touré, the fourth wife of the late President of Guinea, Lansana Conté, with USD 8.5 million. This corrupt pact enabled Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) to obtain, as early as 2006, exploitation rights in one of the world's largest iron ore deposits, the Simandou mine. As happens rarely, all three essential links in the corruption chain were convicted by the Geneva court: the big boss, who always claimed to have no operational role within BSGR; the rogue intermediary, who sealed the deal; and the loyal administrator, who, from Geneva, set up the opaque arrangements intended to conceal the corrupt schemes.
Their high-profile trial, reported by Public Eye in January 2021, shed a harsh light on the workings of international corruption against the backdrop of one of the world's poorest countries. It showed how the abuse of tax havens facilitates the concealment of illegal activities in states with weak governance and regulations. But while this historic verdict sends a strong signal to white-collar criminals and trading houses around the world, it remains an exception in Switzerland, and should not obscure the extreme difficulty for prosecutors to investigate such complex cases. Due to a lack of political will, the authorities still lack the means and tools to fight economic crime. And the fines - a maximum of five million francs for "failure to organise" (Article 102 of the Criminal Code) - are not at all dissuasive.
To prevent such scandals, Switzerland must act politically. The law on money laundering must cover acts related to the creation, management or administration of companies, trusts or foundations by lawyers and notaries, as recently acknowledged by Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter. Establishing a central register of companies' beneficial owners, as required by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is also essential.
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