The struggle for worldwide economic justice just got some very good news from Israel. Authorities on December 19 arrested Beny Steinmetz, once the richest man in the country, on suspicions of massive corruption, including bribing and stealing billions from Guinea, one of the poorest nations in Africa. Steinmetz’s surprising but welcome apprehension raises the hope that Dan Gertler, another Israeli who has drained billions from the crisis-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, could also finally find himself pursued by justice.
At long last, the Steinmetz case should make clear that corrupt African politicians do not steal alone. There are no brib-ees without bribe-ers.
Steinmetz, 59, is a diamond merchant who was once worth $8 billion, and counts two Israeli prime ministers as friends. He is under investigation for his role developing the Simandou region in Guinea, which has rich iron ore deposits worth an estimated $20 billion.
Here are the astonishing facts. In 2008, the Guinean dictator, Lansana Conté, sold Steinmetz the exploration rights to the northern half of Simandou — for $160 million. Only two years later, the Israeli tycoon turned around and re-sold half of his holding to Vale, the international mining multinational — for $2.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Guinea had been restored to democracy, and the newly-elected president, Alpha Condé, was indignant at this obviously fraudulent deal. He sought to reverse it. But the international economic order is so powerful that President Condé could not just seize back Guinea’s iron deposits; he needed proof of wrongdoing to satisfy potential new investors. In this New Yorker article in 2013, Patrick Radden Keefe explains in detail how Guinea, working with international advisers and eventually the U.S. government, spent years tracking down one of the defunct dictator’s wives in Florida, and she agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.
Steinmetz’s appearance in the news is a big change from the usual Western press coverage of corruption in Africa, which focuses almost exclusively on Africans. You could read a long New York Times article about, say, the grotesque Obiang family dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea that never once mentioned Exxon, the biggest oil giant in the country and the source of some of the Obiang millions.
The Steinmetz investigation is global. In addition to Israeli police, prosecutors and tax officials, American and Swiss authorities are also looking into his bribes and shell companies. There have even been hints that Beny Steinmetz could be extradited to Guinea to face justice.