* Key hearing delayed to Dec. 16 - committee head
* Government decision on Simandou licence set to follow
CONAKRY, Dec 10 (Reuters) - A committee reviewing Guinea’s mining licences said it has delayed a Tuesday hearing with BSGR, the mining arm of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz, and partner Vale, until next week.
BSGR is fighting to maintain its right to develop half of the giant Simandou iron ore concession in the West African country after the government accused it of bribing officials to secure it in 2008.
BSGR has denied the allegations, which include offers of entertainment and gifts to high-ranking officials in the former government, saying that Conakry is using them to undermine its position in the country.
BSGR did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“The administrative hearing planned for today will not take place because of a request by VBG for time to examine the elements put before them. We have accepted their request,” said the technical committee’s head Nava Toure.
VBG is the joint venture between BSGR and Brazilian miner Vale, which bought a 51 percent stake of the concession for $2.5 billion.
The hearing has been rescheduled for Dec. 16, Toure added.
A source at VGB saw agreement on the new hearing date as a positive sign for the group. “This step by the Guinean government proves that our rights are not being challenged. Now it’s up to senior management to negotiate,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
The future of Simandou, seen as key to boosting government revenues for one of Africa’s poorest countries, is unlikely to be immediately determined by the hearing.
But it is an important pre-requisite for a final decision on BSGR’s role in the project, Toure added.
“Only after the hearing can we decide something,” he said.
As well as its Simoundou concession, BSGR also has a concession in nearby Zogota in the country’s south. (Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by Emma Farge; editing by David Evans)