Israeli billionaire Steinmetz held in custody in fraud probe: police

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Billionaire Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz and another suspect were remanded in custody for four days on Monday after being arrested in a fraud investigation, a police spokeswoman said.

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Steinmetz and Tal Silberstein, an international political adviser, were detained and questioned with three other suspects who were later released without charge, spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

She did not name them, but Israeli telecoms company Bezeq said its acting chairman, David Granot, had been released after being briefly held in connection with the investigation.

Attorneys representing Steinmetz and Silberstein both denied wrongdoing by their clients.

“Mr Steinmetz is determined to continue the fight in any legal arena in Israel and abroad ... No charges have been brought against him in any (previous) investigations and we are certain that this will be the case here, too,” said Steinmetz’s lawyer, Ronen Rosenbloom.

In an initial statement after the arrests, police said five suspects were held for questioning under caution on suspicion of money laundering, fraudulent filing of corporate documents, fraud and corporate breach of trust, obstruction of justice and bribery.

They said searches were carried out in the suspects’ homes and offices and the detainees were suspected of having “acted together and methodically with the prime suspect in order to create and present fictitious contracts and deals ... in a foreign country in order to transfer funds and launder money”.

The statement did not name the prime suspect or the foreign nation.

Last December, Israeli authorities put Steinmetz under house arrest and released him two weeks later without charge, in an investigation of bribery allegations relating to the activities of his mining firm BSG Resources in Africa. BSGR denied any wrongdoing.

At the time, police said he and other Israelis living abroad were alleged to have paid tens of millions of dollars to senior public officials in the West African state of Guinea to advance their business.

BSGR said in December the investigation had been initiated by the government of Guinea, which opened a review of mining contracts signed before 2011 as part of international efforts to improve transparency.

In its review, the West African nation investigated how BSGR obtained the rights to the Simandou deposit, the world’s largest untapped iron ore reserves, in 2008.

Reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan