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Israeli police detain billionaire Beny Steinmetz

Beny Steinmetz, the mining billionaire, was among five men detained by Israeli police for questioning on Monday in connection with an international probe into alleged fraud and money laundering.

The four other people arrested included David Granot, the acting chairman of Bezeq, a leading Israeli telecoms and pay-TV company, and Tal Silberstein, a political consultant who has previously advised former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Christian Kern, the Austrian chancellor.

Israeli police said the men were detained on suspicion of crimes including fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and forging documents. Mr Kern’s Social Democratic party said it was cutting ties with Mr Silberstein with immediate effect after his arrest.

The police said they had been investigating a number of people on suspicion that they had worked with their “main suspect” — who officers did not name — to produce fictitious contracts and business deals, including a real estate business in an unnamed foreign country, in order to transfer and launder money.

The police added that they were co-operating with law enforcement agencies outside Israel, and that they had carried out searches in suspects’ homes and offices.

Bezeq reported Mr Granot’s detention for questioning in a regulatory filing to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and Israel Securities Authority. It said that it had no information about the nature of the investigation, adding that the probe had nothing to do with the company.

Mr Steinmetz, who was previously detained in Israel in relation to a long-running probe into his mining activities in Guinea, appeared in court in Rishon LeZion, central Israel, on Monday. It is not immediately clear if the two investigations are related.

Speaking in court, Mr Steinmetz said Israel was acting like “totalitarian states” and accused the US billionaire George Soros of plotting to bring him down.

Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundations are a funder of Global Witness, a non-governmental organisation that campaigned for investigations into alleged corruption related to Guinea’s Simandou iron ore deposit, where Mr Steinmetz’s mining company was invested.

“We did not do anything,” Mr Steinmetz told the court in remarks quoted widely by Israeli media. “There is nothing here, and there was nothing here.”

The court appearance was in response to a police request to extend the suspects’ detention for questioning. None have been charged.

Mr Steinmetz, the scion of a prominent Israeli diamond family, was arrested in Israel in December on suspicion of bribing officials as part of the sprawling Guinea investigation. He was released on house arrest.

Forbes estimates Mr Steinmetz’s net worth at $1bn. He made his fortune in Africa, and has done business in Congo, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The probe relating to Guinea dates back to 2008, when Lansana Conté, then the country’s leader, stripped Rio Tinto of its rights to the northern half of the Simandou deposit. Days before he died in December that year, Conté granted the same rights to BSGR, the mining arm of Mr Steinmetz’s business empire.

Conté’s successor, Alpha Condé, later launched an inquiry into how BSGR came to win its rights to the iron ore prospect and stripped Mr Steinmetz’s company of those rights. BSGR has denied any wrongdoing throughout the investigation.

The company confirmed on Monday that Mr Steinmetz had appeared in court, but said it could not comment until it knew what the allegations behind Mr Steinmetz’s detention were.

Source: Financial Times

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