Guinea president says no wrongdoing by Brazil mining firm, can reapply for iron ore deposits

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GENEVA – Guinean President Alpha Conde absolved the Brazilian mining giant Vale of wrongdoing Wednesday and pledged to steer clear of corruption as his nation opens one of the largest untapped iron ore deposits in the world.

On a visit to Geneva, Conde said Vale did nothing wrong and was free to reapply to try to acquire rights to exploit the Simandou and Zogota deposits — a deal worth billions of dollars. The government this month cancelled the rights held by the VBG, a joint venture between Vale and BSG Resources, because of corruption, Conde said.

The first democratically elected leader in Guinea’s 55-year history, Conde said he was in Switzerland to court more international support for his domestic reforms. He narrowly won election in 2010 and narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2011.

A mineral-rich but deeply impoverished country, Guinea has long endured corruption while trying to exploit its natural resources.

Conde said Vale “was not part of the corruption” that remains under U.S. investigation and that led the West African country to revoke the mining licenses for Vale and Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s BSG Resources.

He said his government would welcome a new bid from Vale, but added it had no preference among bidder and would select a winner in a “transparent and open” process.

A Guinea government report said BSG Resources had obtained the earlier licenses corruptly — which the company strongly denies. Some of the evidence cited in the report, which didn’t implicate Vale, came from FBI wiretaps.

American authorities have been investigating the deal for potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and possible money laundering. In U.S. federal court in March, an associate of Steinmetz pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation.

BSG Resources has accused Conde’s government of “relying on fabricated claims, compromised witnesses and illegitimate processes” to reward Conde’s political allies with the promised mineral rights.

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