Ensnared in, but also the instigator of a host of proceedings, Franco-Israeli tycoon Beny Steinmetz blames George Soros for every last one of his legal wranglings and is going after him head-on.
Beny Steinmetz’s legal saga may be putting him through the ringer, but it has been a boon for his defence team and the corporate lawyers at Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) – the company he advises but does not officially run.
Since 2013, Steinmetz and his eponymous company have been waging a series of legal battles in courtrooms the world over. While Guinea suspended its proceedings following an agreement reached between the Franco-Israeli businessman and Alpha Condé in 2019 (though BSGR has not formally signed off on the deal), Steinmetz’s legal fights continue elsewhere.
In England, for starters, he brought an action against BSGR’s former joint venture partner, the Brazilian mining conglomerate Vale. Back in April 2019, a London arbitration court ordered BSGR, represented by the London-based legal firms Asserson Law Offices and Mishcon de Reya, to pay $2bn in damages to Vale on the grounds that BSGR concealed the bribes it had paid to obtain its mining licences in Guinea.
To date, Steinmetz has not paid the amount BSGR owes, but he and his team have been working to reverse the arbitration award by providing fresh evidence that Vale was aware of the (false, according to BSGR) allegations against the company when it signed a joint venture agreement in 2010.
BSGR has since hit back at the miner on its home turf in Brazil, where in October 2020 the company submitted two criminal referrals, one to the country’s public prosecutor’s office and another to the attorney general’s office in Rio de Janeiro, so that an investigation into Vale could be opened. BSGR is represented in Brazil by Renato Polillo, a lawyer with the firm Warde Advogados.
Steinmetz filed a defamation lawsuit in a United States court in 2017 against George Soros and his Open Society Foundation. The suit accuses both of carrying out a smear campaign to tarnish his image. His US lawyer, Louis Solomon, is seeking $10bn in damages in the case.
After Steinmetz’s conviction by a Swiss court on 22 January 2021 and subsequent lodging of an appeal, each of the aforementioned proceedings could impact his upcoming appeal.
Arrested in Israel
In December 2020, Romania’s supreme court sentenced Steinmetz and a former adviser, Tal Silberstein, to five years in jail in absentia for their involvement in a property fraud scheme. Initially acquitted on all charges in a lower court, after the latest ruling the tycoon filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, where he will be represented by François Zimeray, a French national and former ambassador.
Finally, in December 2016, Steinmetz was arrested in Israel over bribery allegations. He was held under house arrest for a time, but an Israeli court quickly moved to vacate his sentence, while his defence, currently in the hands of the leading law firm Eitan Maoz, is quietly working on a deal with the Israeli authorities.
“All these legal troubles, whether with Vale or Guinea, began in 2011, and Soros, who mobilised his networks, is behind every one of them. We’d never seen such a torrent of NGO reports and news articles before that year, and it hasn’t been like that since,” a person close to Steinmetz tells us.
A cool $1bn shelled out
What sparked the rivalry between Soros and Steinmetz in the first place? The American billionaire has never been mum about his distaste for the Israeli authorities, while the former diamond dealer labels himself as a patriot who is proud of his country and supportive of its military.
According to Steinmetz, he and Soros did not meet until 2005 during the World Economic Forum in Davos. Despite being seated at the same table, they never spoke to one another.
The origin of their rift supposedly goes back to 1997. At the time, the two magnates were in the running to buy Svyazinvest, a Russian telco business. Soros personally shelled out $1bn – or about as much as the rest of his consortium partners taken together – and won out thanks to his solid ties with then president Boris Yeltsin’s close associates.
The celebration did not last long, however: the Russian government, increasingly under the control of a certain Vladimir Putin, upended the deal by moving to privatise Svyazinvest. Soros lost his entire investment, which we would eventually describe as “the worst financial decision I ever made”. His net worth today stands at around $9bn.
Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair
Two decades on, does Soros blame Steinmetz for the failed business deal? The former billionaire (according to Forbes, his net worth, estimated at $1bn in 2019, has fallen since) is convinced that this is the case.
As for Steinmetz, has he made too light of Soros’s financial setbacks, as the latter claims? “Soros and his network are at war with me,” he says, listing off the law firm DLA Piper, the advisory firm Veracity Worldwide, the Open Society Foundation and even Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair. Blair was indeed an adviser to Condé. “If BSGR had acquiesced to Soros’s extortion scheme in Guinea, I probably wouldn’t have run into trouble with the law.”