Gabriel CEO says Romania will lose out if Canadian-controlled gold mine killed Add to ...
"If the lower house [of parliament] does reject the project, we will go ahead with formal notification to commence litigation for multiple breaches of international investment treaties for up to $4-billion (U.S.)," CEO Jonathan Henry said in an interview Wednesday morning from London, where he is based. "Our case is very strong and we will make it very public that Romania's effort to attract foreign investment will suffer greatly."Mr. Henry said he expected the government's upper house, the senate, to reject on Tuesday draft legislation that would allow the mine to open. But any decision, for or against, would not be binding unless the bill also goes to a vote in the much more powerful lower house, the chamber of deputies.
While Gabriel holds out some hope that the lower house will hold a serious debate that will result in a "yes" vote, prime minister Victor Ponta on Monday suggested that it was game over for the Canadians, who have been trying to develop the mine for almost two decades. Mr. Ponta noted that a majority of lawmakers opposed Gabriel's plan, which would re-open and greatly expand mines in Transylvania that were exploited by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. "As long as it is obvious that there is a majority opposed to the bill, it is useless to waste too much time on it," he said.
His statement sent Gabriel shares into free fall as investors, convinced the project could not overcome the political hurdle, has no future. Gabriel's Toronto-listed shares, which closed Tuesday at 65 cents (Canadian), have lost 53 per cent this week. In 2010 and 2011, when Gabriel was confident the project's approvals were imminent, the shares traded as high as $8.
Mr. Henry, an Irishman who joined the company three years ago, hinted he would step down if a lawsuit is launched against the Romanian government. "I am a mining CEO, not a litigant," he said.
Mr. Henry would not say which investment treaties would be used to support the lawsuit, though they presumably would include the European Union's trade and investment laws and those of the World Trade Organization. Romania has been an EU member since 2007.
In a note published Wednesday morning, Scotiabank analyst Craig Johnston said rejection of the Rosia Montana mine would deliver a serious blow to Romania's ability to attract foreign investment. "Investment capital is scarce and becoming harder to attract to the mining and resource industries," he said. "As such, we wonder what the future will be for Romania if it does not follow its own process for evaluating a world-class project that meets European Union standards and ask for no exemptions from any laws."
The Rosia Montana project has been held up by well-organized and well-funded protesters, ranging from local farmers, who do not want their properties seized to make way for the enormous mine, to billionaires such as George Soros and celebrities such as Vanessa Redgrave, for about 15 years. Gabriel has spent $550-million (U.S.) on development plans and gone through six CEOs since the company's launch in the mid-1990s. Five of those six failed to get the project approved, though a few of them were convinced they were on the verge of breakthroughs before giving up hope. Mr. Henry may be the sixth to get nowhere.
The Rosia Montana project would cost about $1-billion to develop. It has gold reserves of 17.1-million ounces and silver reserves of 81.1-million ounces.
The project has been reviewed and studied thoroughly by various Romanian governments and its agencies for more than a decade, probably making it Europe's most analyzed mining project. Gabriel has said the project will add about $24-billion to Romania's gross domestic product (based on a $1,200 an ounce gold price) and generate about 3,000 jobs over its 16-year mining life in a region that suffers from high unemployment and poverty.
"I fundamentally believe this project is the right project for the people of Rosia Montana," Mr. Henry said. "This is not just about shareholder value….Without this project, Rosia Montana will die. People will leave. There are no jobs."
Last week, thousands protesters took to the streets of Bucharest to condemn the project. The protesters have argued for years that the mine is an environmental threat, because it uses cyanide to leech the gold from the ore, violates human rights and will destroy the region's rich heritage, including much of the remnants of the vast, ancient Roman mining galleries.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Alburnus Maior Association, the local group that opposes the mine, vowed to keep the protests going until the project is officially dead and a ban is put on use on cyanide in mining.
Gabriel argues that it is using cyanide concentrations that are well below EU and international limits and that the mining area will not pollute the local waters. Cyanide levels in the waste water that will go to the tailings damn will reach only 3 parts per million, Mr. Henry said; the EU's limit is 10 parts per million while the limit in Nevada, where Barrick Gold has enormous mines, is 50 parts per million