Steinmetz Set Free after Cyprus Supreme Court Rejects Extradition

Published: 03 November 2023

Beny Steinmetz Cyprus LarnacaSupreme Court of Cyprus decided not to allow extradition of mining magnate Beny Steinmetz (L) to Romania. (Photo: Christodoulos Mavroudis, OCCRP)

By Christodoulos Mavroudis

Cyprus’s Supreme Court overturned a decision to extradite mining magnate Beny Steinmetz to Romania on Friday, ruling that he faced a risk of inhumane treatment if sent to jail there to serve a five-year sentence in a corruption case.

Romania’s supreme court had convicted Steinmetz in absentia of forming “an organized criminal group” in December 2020, finding that he conspired with the grandson of a former king and others to corruptly obtain former royal lands worth over US$100 million. Since then Steinmetz, 67, has been a wanted man in Romania.

It is the second time that the businessman who made his fortune in the family diamond business, before branching out into real estate and mining ventures, has defeated Romania’s extradition attempts. In November 2021, he was arrested in Athens on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Romania, but was allowed to leave the following March when the Athens Court of Appeal ruled against his extradition.

Cypriot police arrested Steinmetz at Larnaca airport on August 31 of this year and again on the basis of the European Arrest Warrant issued by Romania. Although released on bail within a week, he was detained again after a district court initially upheld his extradition on October 11.

On October 25 he was sent to a hospital in Limassol, a Cypriot police spokesman said. He was not present at the ruling on Friday and his lawyer, Elias Stefanou, told the Supreme Court that Steinmetz had “experienced back-pains affecting the mobility of his leg” while in detention.

Romania has provided guarantees that prison conditions in the country complied with the European Convention on Human Rights, but Cyprus’s Supreme Court found these were insufficient.

“It cannot be concluded that if the appellant is handed over… he will not suffer degrading and inhumane treatment during his detention,” said Judge Ifigenia Stylianidou, on the panel of three Supreme Court justices. “The appeal is successful and the appellant is to be set free.”

Steinmetz was informed of the ruling afterwards by his lawyers on a video call, outside the courtroom. “Another court of a European state is sending a strong response to those who blatantly encroach on human rights and disregard every concept of the rule of law,” he said in a press release. “I am very happy that I will finally be able to return back to my country during such a crucial time for Israel.”

Steinmetz is still waiting for the decision in a separate corruption case, before Switzerland’s supreme court. There, he is appealing a conviction for bribery, over payments to obtain iron ore deposits worth several billion dollars in Guinea, West Africa. He was sentenced to 18 months jail-time, plus an 18-month suspended sentence, in April but appealed immediately. No date has been given for the Swiss court’s verdict.