Published in early July, Challenges magazine’s ranking of the 500 largest French fortunes includes a number of heritages, most of which are in Africa. A good opportunity to recall that several foreign billionaires have built their wealth in African raw materials. Sometimes in a blurry way. Itinerary of three of the most famous of them.
Beny Steinmetz ($1.1 billion in assets according to Forbes)
At the head of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR), Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz knows Africa like the back of his hand. And for good reason, this diamond cutter ﬁls has been criss-crossing the continent for nearly forty years to supply the family business with rough stones. And no matter how chaotic the civil wars may be, he has often seen them in the countries where his deals have led him: Angola, Sierra Leone, DRC… Where the most timid do not dare to venture, he takes the good deals away from him. A success that also owes much to its exceptionally well-stocked address book, particularly among the continent’s political elites. Nevertheless, the Israeli operator is often controversial. And his proximity to the government, which has served him for so long, can occasionally turn against him. Accused by the authorities of Guinea-Conakry of fraudulently acquiring mining permits from Mount Simandou – the world’s largest iron ore deposit – during the time of the late President Lansana Conté, the tycoon had to resolve, at the end of February, to officially renounce his claims. In business as in life, you can’t win every time.
Jean-Claude Mimran (1.5 billion euros of assets according to Challenges)
Jean-Claude Mimran, head of the Mimran trading group, is the heir to Jacques Mimran, a Sephardic Jew from Algeria who became « the king of sugar » in Senegal by creating the Senegalese Sugar Company (CSS) in the 1970s. When the founder died in 1975, the son took over and made the company prosper with a series of acquisitions made at a low cost. As opportunities arise, the new « king of sugar » places his pawns in the African banking sector (takeover of CBAO), while in Europe, he launches into car manufacturing (takeover of Lamborghini) or… sausage processing (takeover of the Olida-Caby group). So many « blows » that he will then make a profit. Opportunistic, he is also opportunistic by maintaining close links with the powers that be and… by feeling the wind turn. The Grand Mills of Dakar and Abidjan (industrial mills), which had been ultra-efficient properties for decades, were sold to the American Seaboard Corporation in 2018, as margins had shrunk in the sector with the arrival of competition. With the ink barely dried on the agreement, the businessman entered the mining sector with equity investments in Senegal (gold, phosphates). Business is business for this businessman who says he learned from his father to « never look back ». An inclination of mind made up of calculated risks and detachment, which probably explains his extraordinary success: now one of the richest men on the planet, he is ranked 63rd in French wealth (1.5 billion euros) by the magazine Challenges. A rank that the main interested party – residing in Switzerland – refutes, arguing that he has not been French for many years.
Dan Gertler ($1.2 billion in assets according to Forbes)
Born in Israel, the businessman owes his fortune first of all to the mining deals concluded in Africa, particularly in the DRC. Coming from a family of diamond dealers, just like his compatriot Beny Steinmetz, the young Gertler arrived in Kinshasa for the first time in 1997. The Mobutu Sese Seko regime is about to fall and rebel leader Laurent Désiré Kabila needs cash for his military operations. The Israeli, for his part, covets diamonds from the east of the country. The deal was concluded and, very quickly, Dan Gertler obtained from Kabila, who became president, a quasi-monopoly on Congolese precious stones. Joseph Kabila, the ﬁls of the Mzee, will then renew these good dispositions towards the « friend » Dan, until his departure from power in 2019. A « friend » inﬂuent -and controversial- who built a real mining empire at ﬁl at the time, integrating, in addition to diamonds, cobalt, iron, gold, manganese and especially copper. It thus has proﬁté full of the dismemberment of the state structure Gécamines (Société générale des carrières et des mines) to position itself at low cost in the copper activity in Haut-Katanga, before selling its assets to the Swiss raw materials giant Glencore for 960 million dollars in 2017. However, he hardly had the opportunity to teach.