Also in the files is Dan Gertler, an Israeli diamond dealer and close friend of Congolese President Joseph Kabila. He reportedly got his big start trading arms for diamonds in African civil wars during the 1990s in violation of UN embargoes. A 2001 UN Security Council report found “very credible sources” who told of a secret deal that, in exchange for a sweetheart deal giving Gertler a monopoly on diamond rights in the Congo, the Israeli “agreed to arrange, through its connections with high-ranking Israeli military officers the delivery of undisclosed quantities of arms as well as training for the Congolese armed forces.”
Mischon de Reya, a London law firm representing Gertler, said in a letter to ICIJ that “our client categorically denies any involvement in the alleged diamonds-for arms trades in Congo in the late 1990s” and that Gertler “has no knowledge of the companies listed in your letter as having these bank accounts.”
“Details of his private affairs are of no legitimate public interest. Our client has, however, always paid all taxes due in every jurisdiction.”
Gertler is listed in the HSBC files as beneficial owner of an account under the name of Concordia Marketing Group Inc., a British Virgin Islands firm. The other beneficial owner of the account was Daniel Steinmetz of the Steinmetz family, one of the biggest HSBC-linked diamond clients of all (Gertler’s lawyers said he is not associated with Daniel Steinmetz). Steinmetz family members appear to have controlled accounts containing nearly half a billion dollars at the bank in 2006/2007. One HSBC banker noted with an exclamation mark that an inactive account belonged to the Daniel Steinmetz group and that the bank expected much new business from him in the next year. He cautioned that the account was “part of DS Group!!!” Another HSBC banker also noted that Daniel’s mother was very ill and that bank officials would travel to Sardinia, where the Steinmetzes lived four months every year, to visit the family.
The bankers were not wrong to be excited. One numbered account called 25225 KT with Daniel Steinmetz listed as attorney would eventually have as much as $264 million at HSBC in 2006/2007.
Wildly lucrative deal
Beny Steinmetz. Photo: YouTube
Steinmetz’s brother Beny offered the prospect of even more business. One of the richest men in Israel and a Gertler business partner, Beny expanded his father’s diamond business into a multi-industry empire. He had major business interests in African warzones, including Angola, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and in 2008 in Guinea, he made one of the most lucrative deals of all time.
As longtime Guinean dictator Lansana Conté lay dying, he handed Steinmetz half the mining rights to Simandou, the richest iron-ore deposit on earth, wresting it away from the Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto. A year later, Steinmetz, who had no experience in iron mining, sold 51 percent of the rights for $2.5 billion. It was almost pure profit. He had paid nothing for the exploration license – in a country whose entire GDP was just $4.5 billion that year – while investing just $160 million in the project.
But a new Guinean government under reformer Alpha Condé suspected that Steinmetz had paid someone for the license to develop Simandou after all – and illicitly. An investigation bankrolled by billionaire George Soros (whose Open Society Foundations help fund ICIJ) and assisted by former British prime minister Tony Blair through his Africa Governance Initiative found that Steinmetz’s Pentler Holdings had bribed one of the late dictator’s wives, Mamadie Touré, giving her millions of dollars and a 5 percent stake in the project in exchange for her help getting Conté to sign over the rights, according to The New Yorker.
Touré insisted on a signed contract, she later testified, and when word of the documents emerged during the Soros-backed Guinean investigation, which would result in a U.S. probe, Steinmetz agent Frederic Cilins then traveled to Florida to pay Touré up to $11 million to destroy the contract and change her story. Touré was wearing a wire for the FBI, which recorded Cilins telling her that he was acting on the authority of Steinmetz himself. Cilins later pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal bribery investigation.
“BSGR and Beny Steinmetz have consistently denied wrong doing in Guinea,” says Theo Crutcher, a Steinmetz spokesman, adding that “BSGR has taken the Government of Guinea to international arbitration at ICSID [International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes] to defend itself against the allegations that have been made against it,” said Theo Crutcher, a Steinmetz spokesman.
Beny Steinmetz and BSG Resources allege that the documents were forged and that Cilins was trying to destroy the forgeries. But Steinmetz is now himself a target of an ongoing U.S. investigation, along with probes in several other countries, including Guinea, and Switzerland, his latest residence. Steinmetz changed his official residence from Israel to Geneva in 2012, while Israeli tax authorities were pursuing an investigation that ultimately determined that he evaded $1.1 billion in taxes.
“Beny Steinmetz is a Swiss resident, pays taxes in strict accordance with his agreement with the Swiss tax authorities and has always managed his bank accounts in Switzerland in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations,” Crutcher said.
A Pentler Pacific Ltd. appears in the HSBC files. Though it is not connected by HSBC to the Steinmetz group, Pentler Pacific is listed having the same address in the British Virgin Islands as Pentler Holdings, the Steinmetz vehicle that the FBI says bribed Touré.
How the system works
Women in Zimbabwe digging for diamonds. Photo: APBanks like HSBC, as well as the offshore-front industry, are part of an infrastructure that enables the looting of poor countries and the evasion of taxes in rich countries.
“By and large really significant corruption in the resources sector does not involve suitcases of cash,” said Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School who investigated the Simandou concessions for the new Guinean government and who wasn’t speaking specifically about Steinmetz. “It involves millions of dollars being paid into bank accounts. They may be in Geneva or London or New York. They may be held in the British Virgin Islands or the Caymans. Very, very rarely are they moving money into banks in Guinea or Liberia or Sierra Leone. You cannot pull off this large scale corruption without involving lawyers, accountants, investment advisers in places like Geneva, London, Amsterdam, New York and Paris.”
In September 2005, a diamond dealer from war-torn Central African Republic (CAR), one of the poorest countries on Earth, bumped into his new HSBC banker at the Park Lane hotel in Antwerp. Abdoul-Karim Dan Azoumi “was with the minister and the Central African delegations in the hall [or lobby],” noted his banker, and the two exchanged contact information in order to talk later.
Dan-Azoumi’s papers weren’t in order with the bank for an unspecified reason, and the banker told him in phone calls over the next few weeks that he “wasn’t comfortable with the current situation,” and that forming an offshore company would solve the issue.
The banker noted that Dan-Azoumi was Muslim and had 18 children by four wives, two of whom he was still married to, and that he directed Badica, a diamond company based in the CAR. Badica would later be fingered by a United Nations Security Council committee for trafficking in blood diamonds. The U.S. State Department noted reports that Badica had financed the Séléka, the Muslim rebel group that overthrew the predominantly Christian CAR government in 2013, setting off a civil war.
The Park Lane hotel itself was co-owned by four of the bank’s clients, including Luscha Baumwald, Louis Stranders, and Josif Grosz. “A family member has court concerns, so we wait to contact,” HSBC noted on Stranders’ account.
Mozes Victor Konig, one of the men now wanted by Interpol, was the fourth co-owner of the Park Lane. Konig had as much as $114 million in his HSBC accounts, one of which was called Front Trading Consultants Inc., during 2006/2007.
The group had used the hotel investment to launder tens of millions in dirty money. All four would be convicted of fraud in 2012. A criminal court in Antwerp forced them to forfeit the $40 million hotel and another $18 million in cash and handed out sentences that ranged from probation to two years in prison.