Frenchman is accused destroying evidence of how an Israeli billionaire gained control of a mountain rich in iron ore in Guinea
A battle over one of the world's richest mineral deposits has taken a dramatic turn after the FBI announced the arrest of a representative of the billionaire businessman who had acquired it in deal that raised eyebrows, even within the buccaneering world of African mining.
The arrest follows years of bitter claim and counter-claim over Simandou
, a mountain in the remote interior of the impoverished west African country of Guinea
that is so laden with iron ore that its exploitation rights are valued at around $10bn.
Beny Steinmetz, one of the world's wealthiest men
, acquired the rights to extract half the ore at Simandou by pledging to invest just $165m to develop a mine at the mountain. Shortly afterwards, he sold half of his stake for £2.5bn. It was hailed as the most stunning private mining deal for decades: the world's finest untapped iron ore deposit, one worth billions of dollars, had been snapped up for a song.
After the wind of democratic change swept through Guinea, however - and after the US justice department decided to mount an investigation into circumstances in which the glittering prize at Simandou changed hands - that deal was appearing to look distinctly less attractive.
On Sunday evening, Frederic Cilins
, an agent for Steinmetz's company, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, after federal agents had covertly recorded a series of meetings. The recording shows, it is alleged, that Cilins plotted the destruction of documents which it is claimed could have shown the Simandou exploitation rights were acquired after millions of dollars were paid in bribes to Guinea government officials.