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The Horse Breeder, the Novelist and the $60 Billion Panguna Mine

Panguna. RNZ/Johnny Blades.

Aaron Clark | Bloomberg News | January 27, 2020

John Kuhns has been many things: an investment banker, a silicon smelter operator in China and a novelist. His sights are now set on an abandoned mine with an estimated $60 billion of gold and copper.

Kuhns is among a handful of people exploring for minerals and courting landowners on the Pacific island of Bougainville. His rivals include an Arabian-horse breeder, a hedge fund investment manager who keeps wallabies on his estate and a former Australian defense minister.

The involvement of such an eclectic mix of entrepreneurs is a reflection of the fact that this is no ordinary mineral reserve. Rio Tinto Group operated the Paguna mine for 17 years through subsidiary Bougainville Copper Ltd. The global mining behemoth shut it in 1989 as local protests over mine revenue degenerated into a civil war that killed as many as 20,000 people.

The mine has been in limbo ever since. But that may be about to change as the Autonomous Region of Bougainville moves toward independence from Papua New Guinea after a referendum showed an overwhelming majority of the population on the small group of islands wants to establish a new nation.

While the political uncertainty may deter major mining companies from making an immediate investment, the mine’s riches attract entrepreneurs hoping to develop the asset to a point where they can deliver it to a big operator for a fee, said Peter O’Connor, a Sydney-based analyst at Shaw and Partners Ltd. “They have to create a story with a vision,” he said.

Success will depend on earning the trust of thousands of poor, customary landholders, many of whom remember the civil war that was triggered by communities demanding greater compensation from the mine.

“The landowners want to reopen the mine but they are divided by the interested developers,” said Sam Akoitai, a member of the island’s parliament who represents central Bougainville, an area that includes Panguna. “It’s really up to the landowners to come together to understand that the land belongs to the clan and not to some individuals.”

Bougainville Copper, which is no longer associated with Rio, has estimated it would take seven to eight years and $5 billion to $6 billion to rebuild the mine and resume full operations. The company is blamed by many locals for contamination attributed to the mine.

“We retain strong levels of support among customary landowners within the project area,” Bougainville Copper said in a statement. “We have a trusted local team on the ground that continues to engage with project area communities.”

The Bougainville Mining Act 2015 strengthened landowner control and was designed to increase compensation to local communities and the island’s government from future mining to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed of the 1980s and 1990s. The government also decided not to renew Bougainville Copper’s exploration license, which the company is challenging in court.

In June 2019, Kuhns flew several landowners to the U.S. to meet potential investors, including representatives from Barrick Gold Corp. At the Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan, where stuffed moose, bison and even an elephant head adorn the rooms, the landowners heard Kuhns deliver a PowerPoint presentation introducing potential investors to Bougainville.

Barrick declined to comment.

“Panguna mine can be rejuvenated and can be resuscitated for a couple of billion dollars,” said Kuhns in a follow up phone interview. “It’s going to take a major to do that.”

Among those also interested in Panguna is Jeff McGlinn, who made his fortune in mining and construction services through Western Australia-based NRW Holdings Ltd., which he co-founded. McGlinn, who resigned from NRW in 2010, is part of the glamorous world of Arabian horse breeding, mixing with models and celebrities at parties on the French Riviera and promoting luxury brands. He once gave an Arabian colt to Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

McGlinn’s roots in mining give him valuable experience for Panguna — one of NRW’s businesses was constructing dams that hold mining waste. He’s also linked to a recent effort by the island’s government to kick start development, when it created Bougainville Advance Mining. The government’s Executive Council proposed last year an amendment to the 2015 mining act that would give all available mining rights to the new company, in which McGlinn’s Caballus Mining would hold a stake.

That amendment drew criticism from landowners, as well as Bougainville Copper, the former mine operator, which says the proposal undermines its rights to mine Panguna. The bill was later shelved. A representative of Caballus said McGlinn was unavailable to comment.

Another interested party is Richard Hains, son of the Australian billionaire David Hains. Richard, famous for keeping wallabies on his Gloucestershire estate, has helped develop mines in some of the world’s most difficult places. He’s the largest shareholder of RTG Mining Inc., whose management team has financed, built and operated mines across Africa and Asia, including the Boroo gold mine in Mongolia.

“Some of the best opportunities in the mining business in the 21st century are now in the more difficult commercial environments,” Hains said in a phone interview.

RTG believes it can restart production at Panguna through a staged process in as little as 18 months for about $800 million.

“It’s far smarter to start with a smaller footprint,” said RTG Chairman Michael Carrick. “Then in consultation with the community, we can turn up the mine’s operation.”

RTG operates a joint venture with the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, a Panguna landowners group. The JV employs 15 people, including Philip Miriori, the chairman of the landowners group.

There are bigger fish too. Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. said in an emailed statement it has sent representatives to Bougainville to learn about the region and potential opportunities, confirming earlier reports. Founder Andrew Forrest is Australia’s second-richest person with a $10.2 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Shaw and Partners’ O’Connor said Chinese miners may also have a chance of redeveloping Panguna because they have a greater risk appetite and access to cheap financing.

But the Panguna landowners group Chairman Miriori said the people he represents aren’t interested in working with Chinese developers because of their poor environmental track record.

If anyone wins the right to develop Panguna or other parts of the autonomous region they will need to do so cautiously. Violence remains a constant threat in a community that is still fiercely divided.

A geologist working for Perth-based Kalia Ltd. was killed and seven others were injured in an attack in northern Bougainville in December, according to the local government and the company, whose chairman is former Australia Minister for Defence David Johnston. Authorities subsequently suspended Kalia’s exploration expeditions and geological field work.

There’s also a moratorium on work at Panguna because of sensitivity to restarting the mine, said Raymond Masono, Bougainville’s vice president and minister for mineral and energy resources.

“We are no longer talking with any investors about Panguna until the moratorium is lifted, and we don’t know when” that will be, he said by phone. “The government is treading very carefully on this particular mine.”

But prospects for restarting Panguna and allowing for the development of new mines are bolstered by the idea that Bougainville would need revenue to have any chance of financing an independent state. Many hope the mineral wealth could ultimately help reduce poverty for the region’s 300,000 people where estimated per capita GDP is only about $1,100.

That would depend not only on clearing the way to restart production, but a government able to make sure that enough of the proceeds are used to fund development. “Given the failure of mining in PNG to deliver really anything like sustainable development, those hopes may end up being disappointed,” said Luke Fletcher, executive director of Jubilee Australia, a group that has tracked the effect of resource extraction.

But the lure of riches mean miners aren’t likely to give up.

“Bougainville had almost no exploration for nearly 40 years,” said Mike Johnston, executive director of Kalia. “There’s no other place like it on the planet.”

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Rival questions authority of Bougainville’s Osikaiyang landowners

“The original divisions from the beginning of the conflict in Panguna #Bougainville have not gone away. Foreign controlled companies continue to involve themselves and interfere which exacerbates the situation. Money continues to corrupt individuals and complicate any resolution” Stret Pasin

Radio New Zealand | 16 July 2019 

The Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association represents itself as the key body at the site of the Panguna mine, which various interests are looking to develop.

Osikaiyang wants to operate Panguna with an Australian company, RTG.

But the Panguna Development Company, which has links to rival prospective operator, BCL, said Osikaiyang is making misleading public statements when it has no right to do so, under the region’s mining act.

It said such statements can only be given by customary heads, who are authorised to represent the Panguna blocks, and Osikaiyang has never had this consent.

Last week Osikaiyang issued an ultimatum, suggesting the referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea could be derailed if it doesn’t get its way over Panguna.

The Development Company called this threat unfortunate.

Meanwhile, government moves to change the Mining Act to allow a third foreign company to take charge of the mine have been put on hold until after the referendum.

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Filed under Bougainville, Corruption, Papua New Guinea

Miriori Says Bougainville Executive Council Was Misled

Philip Miriori (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Post Courier | June 18, 2019

The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) Executive Council were allegedly misled at the time it resolved to support the developers proposal and consequential mass amendments demanded to the Bougainville Mining Act (BMA).

The Explanatory Memorandum that has emerged, long after the fact, claims in its first two principal reasons, that developer has developed and operated some of the largest mines in the world.

It now turns out that neither reason advanced was correct.

The truth is starkly different – the developer in question has never financed, developed or operated a large mine, to say nothing of the largest mines in the world.

Philip Miriori the Chairman of Panguna landowner company, Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), indicated that, had the amending legislation passed, Bougainville would have given away a 4o per cent interest in Panguna and a monopoly over all large scale mining projects in Bougainville, to a person who does not have the relevant skills to finance, build and operate a mine like Panguna or help the ABG.

“The third reason advanced was even more false and misleading, as it claimed that the developer had also raised billions of dollars and so will raise all the money for Panguna for the ABG.

“The developer obviously has not raised billions of dollars as claimed, in fact he has only ever done one public company capital raising of a very modest US$30m, again more than a decade ago.

“So the three key reasons the BEC resolved to support the developer, that he had financed, developed and operated the largest mines in the world.

“And put forward the proposed changes to the BMA, which have now been rejected by the Legislative Review Committee because they were all grossly false and designed to deceive all of us here in Bougainville,” he said.

SMLOLA consultant Lawrence Daveona said the scenario suggest to us is that we all need to sit down collectively and find a workable solution.

“This is a solution that can actually be delivered and will allow us to finally move forward with the redevelopment of Panguna to eventually see all of Bougainville prosper,” he said.

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Filed under Corruption, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Bougainville: Australia positions itself as chief new coloniser ahead of referendum

The controversial Panguna mine which land holders are fighting to stop being re-opened for foreign profiteers.

Susan Price | Green Left Weekly | June 14, 2019

A spokesperson for the Bougainville Hardliners Group has called on the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) to explain why the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were at the controversial Panguna mine site in central Bougainville on June 5.

AFP officers were seen taking GPS readings at the abandoned copper mine site. James Onartoo, a former leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, said the community has a right to know why they were there and what they were doing.

“I think the public is owed an explanation as to what is happening,” said Onartoo. “To the best of my knowledge the AFP were ousted in 2007 on suspicion of spying on the ABG and the people of Bougainville by the former President, late Joseph Kabui.”

He suggested that their presence could be linked to the mine’s controversial reopening.

“Their presence at Panguna, which is the site of so much controversy and disagreements plus issues of sensitive nature stemming from proposed reopening by ABG, raises serious questions considering the fact that, in the past, Australia has always supported military intervention by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to regain control of the mine.”

Onartoo said if the AFP can raid the ABC, “they are capable of anything”, including gathering intelligence “for the purpose of regaining control of Panguna and restarting the mine with use of force”.

The June 11 ABC Radio Pacific Beat said the AFP confirmed that members from the Papua New Guinea-Australia Policing Partnership did visit the site to “undertake an assessment of capability development for support to the Bougainville Police Service”.

Onartoo said Australia’s interest in the mineral deposits at Panguna has never declined. He has criticised Australia’s advice that the ABG prioritise mining over agriculture, tourism, fishing and other sustainable industries.

Several companies, including of Australian origin, are vying to reopen the Panguna mine, which was shut down in 1990 after a brutal battle against mostly indigenous landholders who received none of the huge profits generated by the mine. More than 20,000 people were killed during the 10 year civil war.

The Bougainville Hardliners Group has been actively resisting attempts by the ABG to weaken the Mining Act to give foreign companies exclusive rights to large-scale mining. It opposes further large-scale mining in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region, saying the focus should be on sustainable alluvial mining.

Bougainville is scheduled to hold its independence referendum in October under the terms of the 2001 peace agreement. The referendum outcome then has to be ratified by the PNG parliament.

The ABG has expressed its desire to reopen the Panguna mine.

Legislation to amend the Mining Act is currently being debated in the PNG parliament. According to landowners, the proposed amendments would effectively remove customary ownership of minerals and remove landowners’ veto rights over mining projects.

Onartoo has said that Bougainville’s 350,000 people do not need large-scale mining, and that the changes being proposed are in breach of sections 23 and 24 of Bougainville’s constitution as well as the Mining Act which provides protection from a repeat of “the ownership of minerals on the island by colonisers”.

A report by Papua New Guinea Mine Watch in January said Australian businessperson Jeffrey McGlinn of Caballus Mining is pushing for the act to be amended. A Radio New Zealand report said McGlinn “wanted to shortcut a number of what it calls complicated requirements in the act to fast track vital infrastructure development in Bougainville and boost employment ahead of the referendum”.

However, other reports suggest that he is more focussed on seizing control of major mineral deposits across Bougainville ahead of the referendum.

The Osikaiyang Landowners group has referred the government’s mining plans to the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman.

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Filed under Australia, Bougainville, Financial returns, Human rights

MPs call for delay on Bougainville mining amendment

Radio New Zealand | 12 June 2019

A Bougainville parliamentary committee wants controversial legislation on mining to be delayed until after the autonomous Papua New Guinea region’s independence referendum.

The Bougainville government wants to amend the Mining Act, and two other bills, to give it greater control over mining activity.

The autonomous government said these changes would give landowners more control over their resources but there has been widespread opposition across Bougainville.

The plan to set up a company called Bougainville Advance Mining in association with newly set up Australian business, Caballus, sparked an outcry.

The Speaker of the ABG Parliament referred the matter to a Committee on Legislation, which undertook public consultations, before reporting back this week.

The committee says the Mining bill raised a lot of issues around landowners’ rights.

It worried about the creation of monopolies and the impact of the bills on the Constitution and the Peace Agreement.

It said all three measures needed further consultation before being re-drafted and submitted after October’s referendum.

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Caballus Deal Is ‘Smoke And Mirrors’

Jeff McGlinn of Caballus Mining giving a presentation in Bougainville

Post Courier | June 11, 2019

The McGlinn Caballus presentation to the Autonomous Bougainville Government totally contradicts the Bougainville Mining Minister’s recent statement that appeared in the Post-Courier (May 7, 2019) that Bougainville Advance Mining Limited, is not McGlinn’s Caballus.

The original draft bills introduced to the House of Representatives and sponsored by the Bougainville Mining Minister Raymond Masono, specifically referred to Bougainville Advance Mining Limited.

Searches of the Registry of Corporate Affairs in the British Virgin Islands confirms that the Bougainville Advance Mining Limited was approved for incorporation on August 8, 2018, and the Certificate of Incorporation was issued and dated August 9, 2018.

The incorporation certificate confirms the BVI Company Number for Bougainville Advance Mining is 1988673.  The directors and shareholders were not disclosed.

The off shore company is incorporated by Intershore Consult (BVI) Ltd.

Their web site interestingly states that Intershore is a wealth management firm specialising in tax planning, virtual offices and nominee services, among other things.

Philip Miriori, the chairman of the Panguna Landowners Association – the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA) asked the question, as to why is the Mining Minister Masono now trying to hide the fact that Caballus is behind Bougainville Advance Mining Limited?

“Everyone knows this is a McGlinn incorporated shelf company and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has undertaken to give McGlinn 40 per cent in this entity and Panguna for free.

“The ABG has told everyone including our ABG MPs for months this.

“While the BEC – Special Meeting No.2 of 2019, Decision No.3 of 2019, dated January 28, 2019, confirms the BEC formally endorsed the assent of the bills and the issuance of a Special Bougainville Mining License to Bougainville Advance Mining Limited in respect of the whole of Bougainville.

“Similarly, the Bougainville Executive Council special meeting No. 1 of 2019 dated January 24, 2019, recorded the formal approval of Bougainville Advance Mining Ltd (BAM) for the purpose of carrying out all mining activities in Bougainville, approved the establishment of BAM.”

SMLOLA advisor Lawrence Daveona also chimed in to say that it is totally unacceptable to be trying to steal Panguna from the customary owners.

And further transfer Panguna to this highly secretive off shore BVI entity. “This Caballus deal is smoke and mirrors.” he added

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Proposed Bougainville mining law change referred to Ombudsman

Radio New Zealand | 11 June 2019

A landowning group at the site of Bougainville’s Panguna Mine says it has referred the government’s controversial mining plans to the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman.

The Osikaiyang Landowners group said amendments to the Mining Act, due for consideration in parliament this week, would effectively reverse customary law on the ownership of minerals.

Bougainville’s government has argued that what it is planning, in conjunction with Australian businessman Jeff McGlinn, will ensure landowners are better off.

But the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association said this amounted to an abuse of executive power, the Bougainville Constitution and the PNG Constitution.

Osikaiyang chair Philip Miriori said the group would never allow others to “steal our land, our minerals and both our future and our heritage”.

The amendments are defective and the people pushing them, such as Mining Minister Raymond Masono, are breaching the Leadership Code, which is the basis for the appeal to the Ombudsman, Mr Miriori said.

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