Diamond magnate accused of telling tales at graft trial

Geneva (AFP) –


Diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz was accused of telling tales on Tuesday at his trial in Geneva, where he is accused of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea.

Steinmetz repeatedly insisted that he was an advisor rather than the man at the top of the firm making all the decisions and aware of all the financial details.

The French-Israeli businessman, 64, insisted that "never in my life" had he asked anyone to pay money to Mamadie Toure, who prosecutors say was the fourth wife of former Guinean president Lansana Conte, and a key figure in the case.

Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accused him of "telling tall tales."

"You are a simple advisor who meets hundreds of ministers? In every company, it's normally the big boss who does that!" he said.

Toure has admitted to having received payments and has protected status in the United States as a state witness.

She is scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday as a witness but it is doubtful whether she will appear at the Geneva Criminal Court.

"She told a lot of lies," Steinmetz said, and "regarding the payments she received -- I don't know. I was only a consultant".

"All the people who mention my name in connection with Mrs. Toure are saying false things. I have nothing to do with Mamadie Toure."

Steinmetz said he had never knowingly met Toure.

"I met Lansana Conte in March 2008, under a tree in front of his bombed-out palace," he said.

"After this meeting, someone told me that perhaps one of the women present was Mamadie Toure."

Steinmetz's lawyers demanded Monday the withdrawal of Toure's testimony, arguing that her status in the United States was not valid in Switzerland, but his motion was overruled.

- 'Advisor' role -

Steinmetz is accused of having set up a complex financial web, including a system of front companies, in order to pay bribes -- partly through Swiss accounts -- so that Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) could obtain mining permits in Guinea's southeastern Simandou region.

The area is estimated to contain the world's biggest untapped iron ore deposits.

Steinmetz was quizzed about relations and transactions between the group and Pentler, a company owned by a BSGR subsidiary managed in Geneva.

The magnate repeatedly insisted that he was only an "advisor" within BSGR and not involved in the financial details.

"I am not BSGR, I am not Pentler," he said.

"I don't take the decisions; that's BSGR," he insisted. "Everyone knew that I am not the boss."

The case continues on Wednesday.