Stephen Burega admits that Angkor Gold Corp. (TSX.V: ANK) (OTC: ANKOF) has been a bit of a mining industry wallflower — a careful, conservative company that is sometimes slow to blow its own horn. Perhaps that's because the company has such an embarrassment of riches, including its "Well of Gold" in Cambodia, one of the few remaining final frontiers of untouched ground on the globe.
"There's a lot of interest in Cambodia right now," says Burega, Angkor Gold's VP Corporate Development. "It truly is one of those last bastions of untouched ground with very fertile geological indications."
Angkor Gold is Cambodia’s premier Canadian mineral explorer and project generator with over 30 prospects across five licenses covering a 983-square kilometre land package. They've also entered into 10 deals to date on their properties with a total value of over USD $19 million.
Since 2009, Angkor Gold's extensive mapping and drilling programs have shown evidence of gold, copper, silver, molybdenum, and other minerals across all five of their licenses. At any given time, any one of those licenses might be the shiny ball in the air getting all the attention. Right now, the brightest prospect is the Andong Meas license and its golden-copper glow.
"Andong Meas translates into 'Well of Gold.' The small-scale mining that has gone on there was quite substantial," says Burega. "A historical mine was operating there as well as artisanal, small scale mining operations throughout the area."
The 187-square-km license includes the Canada Wall, Wild Boar, and South Creek Prospects that have shown excellent high-grade gold showings. Assayed grab samples reported gold values ranging from 0.5 g/t to +20 g/t Au. Angkor Gold has also identified two copper/moly porphyry style systems. The company has had expressions of interest from several parties for these areas for further exploration, but Angkor Gold is currently planning to further explore and develop Andong Meas for its own benefit.
"Andong Meas is probably the crown jewel in our stable of licenses," says Burega. "It presents a great opportunity for us as we look to raise a significant amount of capital and spending it on a license where we have 100% and we don't have a current partnership."
That's not to say that Angkor Gold hasn't attracted some major partners on its other licenses, because another thing they haven't bragged about to date is some of the corporate company they keep. Those include major players like the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), the $12 billion exploration arm of the Japanese government. JOGMEC is Angkor Gold's partner in a Joint-Exploration Agreement on the company's Oyadao South license. JOGMEC has committed $3 million US in exploration expenditures over a three year period, which began in March and has proceeded at a breakneck pace.
Work with JOGMEC has concentrated on the license's Halo Prospect, a copper-moly porphyry prospect covering more than a seven-square km area, with the work program continuing right through the rainy season. During Angkor’s first phase drill program, they hit close to 100 metres of mineralization of about 0.3 per cent copper in the ordinary country rock at surface. With plans for more work and funding in place, there should be lots more news to come on this prospect in the near future.
The results indicate the existence of previously unknown copper-molybdenum porphyry systems at Halo. In addition to standard drilling and sampling methods, the company had a little help from an unusual partner: termites.
"It's making those little insects do the work for you," says Stephen Lautens, Angkor Gold's VP Corporate Affairs.
"They dig right down to the water table which might be 10 or 15 meters below, eating dirt and bringing it back up to the surface to build their mounds. And these are not anthills — these can be six to 10 feet tall. It's like sampling 20 metres down without having to do any digging. It's inexpensive and it's all natural."
Angkor Gold has a slightly more standard partnership with Australian-based gold company, Emerald Resources on their Koan Nheak property in northeastern Cambodia. The $2.2 million US exploration funding agreement will see Emerald Resources’ wholly owned subsidiary, Renaissance Minerals, explore the license. The Koan Nheak Project area covers three prospects of interest: Peacock, East Ring and Straddle.
"There have been some really exciting results that have come out of Koan Nheak, so having the chance to work with a world-class outfit like Emerald is a great fit for us," says Burega. "They've already started their work programs and we're pretty excited about what's going to come down the line on that front."
Also exciting are the prospects for Angkor Gold's other two licenses. The Banlung mining license's Okalla East Prospect has early indications of similar mineralization to their Halo Prospect, and the Okalla West prospect has returned very favourable results for gold. And there are some exciting targets on the Oyadao licence, a 222-square km property just north of the company's Oyadao South license.
This impressive portfolio of mining assets is the result of long years of working with the people of Cambodia. Angkor Gold's roots in the country go as deep as those tunnelling termites, and as high as one of their towering mounds. It started back in 2009 when CEO and founder Mike Weeks fell in love with the country. From the beginning, the company has had a comprehensive Social Responsibility Program that includes giving back to the communities via water filtration systems, sanitation, schools, and English language classes, to name only a few.
And Angkor Gold makes a point of employing Cambodians on all their projects.
"We pride ourselves on hiring and training Khmer staff," says Burega. "We're very proud to have a strong local team. At the height of the dry season we will be 150 strong in country."
Not only does the company employ locally, they deploy locally. John-Paul Dau, VP Operations lives in Phnom Penh with his Cambodian wife and their three children. Geologist Dennis Ouellette, VP Exploration, also lives in Cambodia, bringing his vast experience from Alberta, Yukon, British Columbia, the USA, Guatemala and elsewhere to the team and building relations with all levels of government.
Those good relations go from the grassroots to the top levels of government. Angkor Gold is held up as a model of how other foreign mining (and other industry) companies should do business.
"We have heard from everyone right up to senior members of the government, when they’re talking to other companies that want to move into Cambodia or are already operating there, they say ‘be more like Angkor’, so we're really held up as the, pardon the expression, the gold standard of how a foreign company should operate in Cambodia," says Lautens.
More and more foreign companies are coming to Cambodia for a variety of reasons. Manulife is the first licenced foreign life insurance company in Cambodia. The Banque Nationale now holds a 90 per cent interest in in Cambodia’s Advance Bank of Asia. There are about 6,000 Canadians working or living in Cambodia, with 127 business registered with the Ministry of Commerce as Canadian owned or partly owned by Canadians.
For mining companies, one reason is the government's decision to use the Western Australian mining regulations as a model for their own standards. Burega describes them as "very straightforward and easy to understand," as are the corporate tax rules. Combine that with a GDP growth rate of six to seven per cent annually and a strong banking system and it's not hard to see why companies from Japan, China, Australia, India, and elsewhere are investing in Cambodia.
"They are growing faster than most countries in Southeast Asia or for that matter most countries in the world," says Burega. "We're very excited by the fact that all the pieces of the puzzle that you need in order to have a successful mining industry are coming together quite nicely."
With the pieces of the puzzle coming into place and all those shiny balls in the air, Angkor Gold's days as a "silent partner" in Cambodia's burgeoning mining space are finally at an end. They're going to make some noise. And Burega and Lautens couldn't be happier.
"Whenever Stephen and I sit down and talk to a new investor, it's always interesting to watch their reaction as the story unravels, and the interest level rises, because what we're sitting on and what we're talking about typically might sit in the hands of three or four companies," says Burega.
"I think we have a strong story, a multi-faceted story that creates the excitement — we have a massive land package, world-class partners and this asset called Andong Meas that we're very excited about because it has multiple possibilities on it."
"Yes we're a little more methodical, and in the overly-hyped world of junior miners, some people might see that as plodding," he says, "but we take the time to do things right, establish our in-country credentials and secure attractive, long term assets. We have been around for nine years, but we're really new to a lot of people, especially in North America."
In spite of its relatively low profile, Angkor Gold Corp. (TSXV: ANK) continues to have some dedicated followers among its shareholders. It’s not hard to see why.