Sierra Leone court freezes Steinmetz’s Octea assets


FREETOWN (Reuters) – The High Court of Sierra Leone on Wednesday granted an interim freezing order on the assets of Octea, a subsidiary of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s BSG Resources (BSGR) in a lawsuit over alleged environmental damage around Octea’s diamond mine.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs had requested a freezing order, saying there was a “clear and present risk” the defendants could expatriate funds in order to avoid having to pay out if the court rules against them.

The lawsuit against Octea subsidiary Koidu Limited, filed in March last year by 73 plaintiffs living around the mine, says they have suffered respiratory infections and headaches due to the mine, and seeks $288 million in damages.

Octea will appeal the judgment on Thursday, lawyers for the plaintiffs told Reuters.

High Court judge Justice S.O. Williams said: “This is just an interim order. They [Octea] will come in tomorrow and the two sides will have time to argue their own positions. At that point it’s just a matter of who is best able to make a compelling case to the court.”

A BSGR spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the freezing order.

The spokesman previously said BSGR would not comment until there was a legal ruling.

Reporting by Cooper Inveen in Freetown and Helen Reid in Johannesburg; writing by Helen Reid; editing by Alessandra Prentice and Jason Neely