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Guilty verdict in massive mining corruption case

A Swiss court sentenced Israeli businessman and diamond trader Beny Steinmetz to five years in jail on Friday on charges of corruption and forgery.

It's a landmark verdict in one of the mining world's most high profile legal cases, dating back to 2006 -- and shines a spotlight on international corruption in the struggle for control over Africa's natural resources.

The ruling is a major blow for Steinmetz, one of Israel's wealthiest men, convicted of bribing public officials in order to gain control of iron ore deposits in Guinea--the richest untapped deposits of iron ore in the world.

Steinmetz said he would appeal the verdict, which also included a hefty fine of over 50 million dollars, calling it a quote "big injustice."

Steinmetz and two others were accused of paying bribes to acquire mining rights for the iron ore buried beneath Guinea's remote Simandou mountains, and forging documents to cover it all up through a web of shell companies and bank accounts.

Prosecutors say they paid or arranged payment of some $10 million in bribes to Mamadie Toure, believed to be one of the wives of former Guinean president Lansana Conte.

All three defendants denied the charges.

Steinmetz claimed he was not behind the day-to-day running of the company, Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, describing himself as the owner and company ambassador, but not the boss.

But presiding judge Alexandra Banna rejected that defense, calling Steinmetz the quote "effective head of the group."

Steinmetz's co-defendants were found guilty of corruption as well, and also face jail time and significant fines.

A lawyer for one of the defendants has said his client plans to appeal, while the other could not be reached for comment.

Several representatives of NGOs say the verdict could have wider repercussions for the mining industry, with one attorney saying it demonstrates "increased accountability."