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Barrick Gold Corp. says a Papua New Guinea court has granted it the right to challenge a government decision denying its long-term mining rights in the South Pacific nation.
A judicial review to determine whether the government followed due process in refusing to renew the mining licence will take place on July 20, Barrick Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow said Friday in a phone interview.
The Toronto-based miner’s joint venture arm is prepared to keep negotiating with the government for a “win-win” agreement that “will provide materially enhanced benefits for all Papua New Guinea stakeholders,” he said.
In April, the PNG government said it would not renew Barrick’s right to operate the Porgera gold mine, a decision Bristow said at the time was “tantamount to nationalization without due process.” The world’s second-largest gold producer had said its local joint-venture unit, Barrick Niugini, would pursue all legal options to defend its interests and recover damages.
Regarding a news report on Friday that the country’s mining regulator is considering criminal proceedings over allegations of illegal exports, Bristow said the joint venture “categorically rejects any claim that it, or its representatives, have violated the law in any way.” The dispute involves gold that was produced by processing the remaining ore in its milling circuit after the mine was put on care and maintenance, he said.
Separately, an application for “stay and interlocutory relief” will be heard on June 12, Bristow said. A favorable decision will allow the miner to continue to manage the mine while it’s on care and maintenance, he said.
Barrick co-owns the mine with joint venture partner Zijin Mining Group Co. In an April filing with the Hong Kong exchange, Zijin also said if negotiations fail, the JV would pursue all legal avenues to protect its investment.
Barrick’s share of the gold from Porgera accounted for about 5% of its global production of the metal in 2019. The miner has previously said that with proper investment Porgera has the potential to become a top global asset. In May, Barrick was forced to cut its 2020 production guidance by 200,000 ounces as a result of the stand-off.
The decision to deny Barrick’s mining rights appears to be part of a broader move by Prime Minister James Marape to secure better deals from foreign companies involved in the country’s resource extraction. Despite multiple meetings with Marape, and an offer of more than half the mine’s economic benefits to PNG stakeholders for 20 years, Barrick was unable to secure an agreement, Bristow said in April.
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The dispute echoes a multiyear saga in Tanzania over Barrick’s former subsidiary Acacia Mining Plc. In a deal concluded last year, the company agreed to pay the government $300 million and give it partial control of the local assets to settle a tax dispute and lift a ban on export of concentrates.
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