January 16, 2012

SMH: Fiji dictator leads Newcrest talks

Barry Fitzgerald
January 16, 2012

MELBOURNE'S Newcrest will now have deal directly with Fiji's military dictator Frank Bainimarama on negotiations for the development of its $1 billion-plus Namosi copper and gold project.

Commodore Bainimarama has announced that he will be taking ''over responsibility for overseeing talks and negotiations related to the Namosi joint venture mining project in Waisoi area'', which is 30 kilometres west of the capital, Suva.

The move appears to be a response to anti-mining non-government organisations agitating in the Waisoi area for opposition to the project on environmental grounds.

Newcrest is the manager and 69.94 per cent owner of the Namosi joint venture, home to the Waisoi deposit and other copper/gold targets. The Waisoi deposit ranks as one of the world's biggest undeveloped copper/gold deposits, with Newcrest last estimating a total resource of 7.9 million tonnes of copper and 7.7 million ounces of gold.

Had it not been for Fiji's political turmoil, stronger copper and gold prices would have made the deposit a real development candidate.

A Fiji government website said that as a ''result of some people seeking to politicise the project for their own benefit by spreading misinformation, the Prime Minister wants to personally ensure all relevant parties' voices continue to be heard - in particular those of the landowners''.

The Namosi project is the subject of an environment impact assessment and Newcrest has said previously that it expected to complete a feasibility study into the development by June.

The website statement said Fiji was ''committed to maintaining a pristine environment in Namosi and throughout Fiji''.

''It is imperative to be forward looking to ensure a clean environment for future generations while trying to gain maximum benefit for landowners - as has been done successfully throughout the world,'' the statement said. Newcrest could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Hopes that development may proceed have risen since an address by Commodore Bainimarama, in which he said that emergency powers in place since 2009 would be rescinded and a new constitution was in the works. But that was followed by laws allowing for the arrest and detention of citizens without access to the courts for 14 days, said to have the purpose of preserving peace and public safety before the national elections in 2014.

Commodore Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup, the fourth since 1987. The fallout from the 2006 coup did not scare Newcrest away from pursuing Namosi's potential: its entry into the joint venture with Japanese partners occurred in July 2007.

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