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Israeli billionaire Steinmetz sues campaigners Global Witness

Monday, 16 Dec 2013 | 9:11 AM ET

LONDON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz and three others working with the mining arm of his business empire, BSG Resources, have sued campaign group Global Witness, claiming damages for what they say are breaches of their human and data protection rights.

BSG Resources (BSGR) is battling for the right to develop half of the Simandou deposit in Guinea, one of the world's largest untapped iron ore resources.

The government of Guinea, which is running a review of mining contracts allocated by previous administrations, says BSGR bribed officials to win a 2008 licence to develop the promising deposit. Global Witness, which campaigns for transparency in the resources industry, has on several occasions linked BSGR to corruption allegations.

BSGR denies it paid bribes for its Simandou concession and has criticised the contract review, which it says is designed to allow Guinea to renege on its obligations. It has also accused international advisers working directly and indirectly with the Guinean government, including financier and philanthropist George Soros, of orchestrating a smear campaign against it.

In court documents detailing the claim against Global Witness - filed with London's High Court and served on the campaign group on Monday - Steinmetz and the three other claimants said they were suing under Britain's data protection legislation, which safeguards the right to privacy.

They accused Global Witness of unfairly obtaining and using - but then refusing to produce on request - personal data on those named in the claim, including Steinmetz himself, BSGR'S executive chairman David Clark, and Dag Cramer, a director of BSGR and chief executive of Onyx Financial Advisors, an adviser to BSGR.

According to the documents, they expect to recover up to 25,000 pounds ($40,700).

"Each of the claimants has suffered distress as a result of the unfair processing of their respective personal data," the claim said.

"The processing of incorrect information has contributed to and formed an integral part of an intentional campaign to propagate misleading information in the public domain against BSGR and those associated with it (...)"

BSGR, in a statement, said Global Witness was compromised by its connection with Soros, whose charitable foundations are among those contributing financial support to the group, and whom the miner accuses of influencing a campaign on Guinea.

Global Witness, though, dismissed the claim as an attempt to "stifle journalism in the public interest". It has in the past denied that either Soros or his Open Society Foundations exert control or influence over the activities of Global Witness.

"This is an attempt to divert attention from one of Africa's biggest mining scandals," Global Witness campaigner Daniel Balint-Kurti said.

Soros said in a statement published by the Financial Times last year that he had no business interest in the mining industry of Guinea, no intention of acquiring any and had "no personal grudge" against Steinmetz.

A spokeswoman for Open Society in London had no immediate comment on Monday.