Israel detains diamond magnate in international money laundering probe

Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz at a business event in Tel Aviv, Israel on Aug 8, 2010.
Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz at a business event in Tel Aviv, Israel on Aug 8, 2010. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli police on Monday (Aug 14) detained diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz and four others as part of an international money laundering investigation, authorities and a security source said.

Austrian media reported that Tal Silberstein, an adviser to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, was also among those detained, but there was no official confirmation.

It was the second time Steinmetz had been arrested by Israeli authorities since December, when he was placed under house arrest as part of a corruption probe involving mining deals in the African nation of Guinea.

Besides the Guinea investigation, Steinmetz was charged in Romania last year with forming an organised criminal group and money laundering in a property-related case that cost the state US$145 million.

Israel police said five suspects had been detained on Monday morning for questioning on suspicions including money laundering, fraud, forgery, obstruction of justice and bribery.

Homes and offices were also searched.

The suspects were not named in the statement, nor were details provided on where the alleged offences may have occurred.

However, a security source speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed to AFP that Steinmetz was among those detained.

Austrian paper Oesterreich reported that Silberstein was also detained, and Kern's Social Democrats issued a statement saying they will no longer work with him "after the legal accusations that have emerged out of Israel today".

Silberstein has also worked as an adviser to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Israeli police said they were "investigating a number of suspects since the morning on suspicion that they worked systematically with the main suspect in order to produce and present fictitious contracts and transactions, including in the field of real estate in a foreign country, for the purpose of money transfers and money laundering".

The investigation was being conducted with "international cooperation", they said.

Israeli billionaire Steinmetz controls mining firm BSG Resources and has a net worth estimated by Forbes of US$1.02 billion, making him the 17th-richest person in Israel.

In December, he was ordered to remain under house arrest until January 2.

At the time, BSG Resources issued a statement calling the allegations against Steinmetz "baseless".