Ean Higgins | The Australian
THE mining magnate at the centre of an alleged corruption scandal in Solomon Islands has admitted he arranged to pay for the children of an influential Solomons politician to attend a top Brisbane boarding school.
Mark Caruso, executive chairman of Perth-based Mineral Commodities, denied the schooling was paid for in exchange for politician Matthew Wale greasing wheels in government to get a series of permits for a goldmine.
Mr Caruso, who was the chief executive of Allied Gold, which owned the Gold Ridge mine at the time of the alleged corruption, also attacked the company that took over the mine, St Barbara Ltd.
Mr Caruso implied St Barbara had leaked the report on an internal investigation it carried out that alleges corruption on Allied Gold’s watch.
He claimed St Barbara was trying to make him a “scapegoat” to divert attention from the failure of the mine, which is to be transferred to the government.
Speaking for the first time about the allegations, which are under investigation by the Australian Federal Police and Solomon Islands authorities, Mr Caruso said:
“Is this the best St Barbara can do after they destroyed $1.3 billion of shareholder value … be bothered about two children being educated?”
In October, the Solomon Star newspaper ran an extensive story on the alleged corruption outlined in a report commissioned by St Barbara and conducted by a Melbourne law firm.
The report alleges that in 2010, Mr Caruso got to know Mr Wale, an accountant by profession and prominent MP, and asked him to help Allied Gold in its dealings with the government.
Mr Wale is alleged to have helped arrange for a “letter of comfort” from the Solomons Attorney-General confirming the legality of blasting at the mine site; for the Minister for Mines to grant a special prospecting licence; and for immigration officials to lift visa restrictions on Allied Gold expatriate employees.
St Barbara, which took over the Gold Ridge mine after buying out Allied Gold in 2012, launched the investigation after being invoiced for more than $100,000 for the Wale children’s fees to attend Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School.
The report also alleged that $13,500 was transferred directly into Mr Wale’s account for “office set-up expenses”.
Mr Caruso did not remember the payment but said the schooling of Mr Wale’s children was done through a selection process as a benevolent gesture, for which Allied Gold received no special favours.
Mr Caruso was scathing of St Barbara’s inability to reopen the mine after massive rains damaged access roads, and squatters moved in to pan for gold and looted plant, equipment and supplies, events that have contributed to the company’s share price tumbling from about 40c in March to about 10c now.
“They are leaving the country on the grounds it was raining — are you serious?” Mr Caruso said. “You wouldn’t let them manage the Mr Whippy van in the beach carpark. The electricity would go off and the ice cream would melt.”
A spokeswoman for St Barbara said:
“St Barbara identified the provision of benefits to a foreign public official that may violate anti-corruption laws. St Barbara reported the matter to relevant authorities. As the matters are under investigation by the AFP, St Barbara does not intend to comment further.”