UK data watchdog hands defeat to Steinmetz over request to quell Simandou mining deal critics
Beny Steinmetz, the Israeli diamond magnate, and three board members of BSG Resources, the mining arm of his family conglomerate, have lost their lawsuit against campaign group Global Witness, which they accused of breaching data protection laws by obtaining personal information on him and his firm, which are facing corruption allegations in Guinea.
In the claim filed with London’s High Court in December last year, Steinmetz and three BSGR directors argued that Global Witness had obtained personal information about them without authorization, and failed to answer disclosure requests.
They wanted Global Witness to reveal what specific information it held about them and see if that could suggest corrupted practices in the process leading to BSGR acquisition of iron ore rights in Guinea in 2008 (*).
The court passed the case to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which determined the NGO had the same legal rights as journalists due to the nature of its work, Reuters reports. It added that BSGR said it would appeal.
Lawyers at news outlets alike have closely followed the case, as they anticipated major consequences on investigative journalism had the lawsuit succeeded.
A probe by Guinea’s current government concluded in April that BSGR paid bribes to win the rights over the massive Simandou deposit, which the company has persistently denied. The government subsequently revoked BSGR’s rights and said it planned to put them out for tender.
Though it is far from ports, roads and rail, the iron ore studded in Simandou's hills is easily extractable. Those deposits are among the richest in the world and have the potential to transform the fortunes of the impoverished West African nation.
(*) The law firm representing Steinmetz and BSGR wants to clarify that they were not, and have never, tried to "quell" or put a check on free speech. Nor were they seeking to block Global Witness from reporting anything, they said in an e-mailed statement dated Dec. 23, 2014.
"The only goal of BSGR’s legal action was to get Global Witness to share with us the data they have on the four named executives.
"While the ICO has said that GW are entitled to rely on the journalistic exemption against handing over data, we had argued- and still believe- that they are not journalists and could not seek the protections rightly afforded to journalists. This was never a free speech issue. It was simply a question of whether we were entitled to see the data GW had been using to formulate its campaign," it said.