Sunday, February 3, 2008

Australian mining companies and executives are under investigation over alleged misconduct and dubious practices in the developing world

Several Australian mining companies and executives are under investigation over alleged misconduct and dubious practices in the developing world, sparking calls for greater oversight.

With local firms increasingly scouring mineral-rich developing nations to capitalise on the mining boom, federal police assistant commissioner Peter Drennan told The Age that only the naive would believe that corruption did not sometimes happen. He stressed the majority of Australian firms operated within the law.

The Age has learned that the AFP has three ongoing investigations into mining-related companies. It has finalised inquiries into four other companies after finding insufficient evidence to sustain criminal charges.

A Philippines criminal case has also been revived against two Australians charged in 1996 with breaking environmental laws in connection to the country's worst mining disaster.

After a decade of legal and political wrangling, two Filipino public prosecutors were recently appointed to begin legal proceedings against Australians John Loney and Steven Reid, who held senior positions with Canadian firm Placer Dome — since taken over by Barrick Gold — that managed the Marcopper mine on the island of Marinduque. The island remains heavily polluted after a mine dam burst in 1996.

Mr Reid, who works for another Canadian mining firm, Goldcorp, and Mr Loney, who works for Australian Mineral Fields, did not return The Age's calls or emails but have previously denied wrongdoing.

The Greens, Democrats and Oxfam Australia have called for the Federal Government to examine setting up a mining watchdog in Australia. Oxfam has alleged corruption of local officials, intimidation of dissenters and environmental damage from some projects.

In the Philippines, several Australian firms employ local government officials, despite their role in approving permits.

The CEO of Melbourne-based miner OceanaGold, Stephen Orr, defended his company's employment of village councillors from Didipio, in the northern Philippines, where a $174 million gold and copper mine will begin production next year. "Some people have a lot to offer from a public official standpoint … and they also happen to be exceptional employees."

He dismissed claims of Oxfam Australia that OceanaGold had intimidated villagers refusing to sell their homes and tacitly encouraged the involvement of armed soldiers in the case of a resident who ignored legal orders to vacate her house.

(That never happens: Mining Misery: Guatemala is one of many countries that has attracted the investment of Canadian Mining Companies – but at what cost to its people? )

But The Age has confirmed that an employee of Australian company Climax Mining, which held rights to the Didipio mine until it was bought by OceanaGold in 2006, made an irregular land offer to an anti-mine local councillor in the late 1990s, before a council vote to endorse the mine.

Meanwhile, relatives of more than 100 Congolese villagers killed and injured during the military suppression of an uprising in October 2004 have lodged a Supreme Court application in Western Australia for access to any Anvil Mining documents that shed light on support given by the company to the military. The application is due to be heard late next month.

Anvil Mining has denied any wrongdoing.

Here is the full story.