November 7, 2012 7:07 pm

Soros, Blair and the Guinea rumour mill

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Tussle for country’s minerals sets off war of information

The wrangle for Guinea’s minerals has set off a war of information. Rivals speak of public relations manoeuvring and leaks to the press, some calculated to challenge companies, others to tarnish the government of President Alpha Condé or its allies. PR companies and corporate intelligence groups have been hired.

Even a purported personal history between George Soros and Beny Steinmetz has become one source of the rumours that are rife in Conakry.

The billionaires were members of rival consortiums in a contentious Russian telecommunications privatisation in 1997, which Mr Soros won. The Hungarian-born hedge fund investor’s foundation has criticised a gold mine project in Romania in which the conglomerate managed on behalf of the Steinmetz family has a stake.

In Guinea, Mr Soros has advised Mr Condé, who has ordered a review of past mining contracts – including the Steinmetz group’s venture. Revenue Watch Institute, a consultancy that Mr Soros founded and funds as part of his campaign for greater transparency, has provided technical support for the Condé government’s mining reforms.

The resources arm of the Steinmetz group (BSGR) last week dismissed graft allegations levelled by a government mining committee as the latest of “repeated investigations by various third parties, financed and backed by George Soros, desperate to uncover a just reason for revoking BSGR’s licences”. The committee says Mr Soros “has no role, either formal or informal” in its work. Mr Soros concurs.

“I have no business interest in the mining industry of Guinea and have no intention of acquiring any,” Mr Soros told the Financial Times in a statement. “I have not met Mr Steinmetz nor have I ever spoken with him. I have no personal grudge against him.”

Another high-profile figure involved in Guinea is Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister. He personally advises Mr Condé. The African Governance Initiative, funded from the former premier’s own pocket, assists government efforts to improve decision-making after decades of misrule. All the work is pro-bono.

Mr Blair has also been caught up in the Guinean rumours. Press reports and opponents of Mr Condé have drawn attention to his work as an adviser to JPMorgan, the US investment bank, and Mubadala, the state investment vehicle of Abu Dhabi, both of which have connections to Guinean mining. Mr Blair’s office says that those roles are “entirely separate” from his activities in Guinea, where he had “no commercial interest ... whatsoever”.

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