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SFO should act to investigate London link in BSGR’s Guinea mine scandal

5th September 2013

The UK Serious Fraud Office should take action following police raids in Switzerland and France on premises linked to Onyx Financial Advisors, Global Witness said today.

 On 15 August Global Witness reported the role of Onyx, a London-based company, in setting up an offshore firm that promised millions in bribes on behalf of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources in one of Africa’s biggest mining scandals.[1] On 29 August, police seized documents in raids on Onyx’s Geneva headquarters and another property across the French border just outside the city.[2]

Global Witness understands that the French raid was on the house of BSGR and Onyx director Sandra Merloni-Horemans, who signed the incorporation documents of Pentler Holdings, the offshore company that offered the bribes.[3]

"Onyx has absolutely nothing to hide. We are co-operating fully with the authorities but are unable to comment further at this time," a company spokesman told Reuters after the raids.[4]

Both Guinea and the US are holding criminal inquiries into BSGR’s acquisition of mining rights in Guinea’s Simandou concession, potentially the world’s biggest iron deposit. Global Witness has learned that Swiss and French police moved almost immediately after receiving a US-backed request from Guinean authorities. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has reportedly been investigating BSGR’s Simandou deals for months—but has not acted. [5]

 An SFO inquiry into BSGR was first reported on 17 April and UK investigators have been fully briefed since June at the latest, when Guinean President Alpha Condé visited the UK.

“Both the US and Guinea have also requested the help of Britain, specifically because Britain and London, the City, is the centre for a lot of the transfers,” Condé told journalists through an interpreter in a 14 June briefing at Chatham House in London. “There has now been a formal request from Guinea to get some help in this process.”[6]

 Officials in the British dependency of Guernsey should also move to secure evidence from BSGR’s official headquarters on the island.[7]

 “A joint investigation is being conducted with other law enforcement authorities in relation to matters relating to BSG Resources, a Guernsey registered company,” Adrian Hale, a senior investigation officer at Guernsey’s Financial Investigation Unit, told Global Witness in a 4 September  email.

Global Witness reported on 15th August how Onyx, which shares directors and Mayfair offices with BSGR, established Pentler Holdings in the British Virgin Islands in 2005. Pentler later promised bribes to Mamadie Touré, a wife of former Guinean president Lansana Conté, for her help to secure mining rights. BSGR had said previously that Pentler was established independently.       

BSGR maintains that any corruption allegations are “entirely baseless”.  In April, an associate of BSGR, Frederic Cilins, was arrested in the US and charged with trying to destroy corrupt contracts signed by Pentler, BSGR and Touré. Global Witness calls on the SFO to act swiftly before evidence is lost.

Contact:

Leigh Baldwin | t: +44 (0) 207 492 5889 | m: +44 (0)7715 068 300 | e: lbaldwin@globalwitness.org

Note to editors:

For Global Witness’s previous statements on BSGR and Simandou, see:

1. New evidence ties BSGR to company behind Guinea mine bribery http://www.globalwitness.org/library/new-evidence-ties-bsgr-company-behind-guinea-mine-bribery    (15 August 2013)

2. Damning video and contracts show BSGR was lying in Guinea mining scandal http://www.globalwitness.org/library/damning-video-and-contracts-show-bsgr-was-lying-guinea-mining-scandal (19 April 2013)

3. Corruption arrest in US puts Beny Steinmetz Group Resources in the frame http://www.globalwitness.org/library/corruption-arrest-us-puts-beny-steinmetz-group-resources-frame  (16 April 2013)

4. Beny Steinmetz Group Resources must publicly address questions over Guinea mining concession http://www.globalwitness.org/library/beny-steinmetz-group-resources-must-publicly-address-questions-over-guinea-mining-concession (9 November 2012)


[1] ‘New evidence ties BSGR to company behind Guinea mine bribery’ – Global Witness, 15 August 2013 http://www.globalwitness.org/library/new-evidence-ties-bsgr-company-behind-guinea-mine-bribery

[2] ‘Swiss and French police raid offices linked to billionaire’ – The Guardian, 30 August 2013 Steinmetz http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/29/swiss-french-police-raids-linked-beny-steinmetz   

[3] For full details of Merloni-Horemans’ relationship with between Onyx, BSGR and Pentler, see Global Witness’s 15 August statement, `New evidence ties BSGR to company behind Guinea mine bribery’, http://www.globalwitness.org/library/new-evidence-ties-bsgr-company-behind-guinea-mine-bribery

[4] `Police raid Geneva offices of Steinmetz-linked company’, 29 August 2013, http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/08/29/bsgr-onyx-police-idINL6N0GU46820130829

[5] UK’s SFO investigates Guinea mining rights graft allegations, Metal Bulletin, 17 April, 2013 - http://www.metalbulletin.com/Article/3192245/Search/UKs-SFO-investigates-Guinea-mining-rights-graft-allegations.html

[6] Transcripts and recordings of the briefing are available here: http://www.chathamhouse.org/category/country/guinea

[7] BSGR’s Head Office is at West Wing Frances House, Sir William Place, St Peter Port, Guernsey according to the company’s website, last viewed by Global Witness on 4 September 2013 http://www.bsgresources.com/contact-us