Life after Bre-X [John Felderhof] – by Trish Saywell (Northern Miner – December 26, 2012)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.

Fifteen years after the Bre-X salting scam shattered his career, The Northern Miner catches up with John Felderhof at home in the Philippines

PHILIPPINES 2012-12-26

John Felderhof looks much thinner than when we first met at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in 2010. The weight loss could be from the heat and humidity of the Philippines, where the 72-year-old lives in a house with a single beaten-up air conditioner in his bedroom. Or it could be the stress of writing his memoirs — a project he started about a year ago at the urging of a handful of his nieces and nephews. When we met in June he was about to start the Bre-X chapter — which he has left for last.

Felderhof says it has taken him 15 years to figure out how the salting was done at the Busang deposit in the Indonesian jungle of Borneo (using gravity concentrate and not alluvial gold, contrary to published technical reports), and he believes he knows which of the company’s employees were behind it, but he refuses to make their names public. “I know what it’s like to be accused,” he tells me. “It’s easy to accuse and destroy a person’s life, but I have no proof, so I won’t accuse them.

I’m not going to point fingers at anybody.” What he will say, and has said repeatedly since the beginning, is that Mike de Guzman — Bre-X’s chief geologist whose body was reportedly found in a swampy field after plunging from a helicopter — had nothing to do with it. And he still believes there is an economic gold deposit at Busang 1, and possibly in parts of Busang 2. “Busang is going to be mined by a company one day,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it.” Today Felderhof lives in a sparsely furnished white-washed cement home with iron grills on the windows that, like many of its kind in Asia, house businesses on the ground floor, and a small living room and a couple of bedrooms on the second floor.

A small convenience store and a row of plastic tables and chairs where locals can eat breakfast and lunch opens to the street, and a side door takes you through the kitchen to the back of the house, which opens to a modest backyard with a small vegetable garden.

Roosters and cows roam a litter-strewn field beyond Felderhof’s fenced property, about a seven-minute walk from the sea. His wife Maria and her four children from a previous marriage manage the convenience store and supplement their income from a restaurant run out of their kitchen. They also sell rice and rent space on their roof to a local company.

The family works six-and-a-half days a week and earns about US$850 a month. “I’ve gone from having millions to this, but Maria and I could be happy together living on nothing,” Felderhof says. “I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m very lucky.”

Felderhof met Maria a year and a half after he moved from the Cayman Islands to the leafy Indonesian island of Bali in October 2000, when his second marriage ended abruptly in divorce. “It had nothing to do with our personal relationship,” Felderhof says about the breakdown of his 17-year marriage to Ingrid, an Australian woman with whom he had a son and helped raise three stepchildren.

“It was just the constant stress of one lawsuit after another.” His first marriage to Denise, a nurse he met while working at a copper mine in Zambia in the 1960s, and with whom he had three children (Felderhof asked that the names of his biological children be withheld), also ended in divorce after 17 years.

“Exploration wives have it tough,” Felderhof told The Northern Miner in an earlier email exchange in 2010. “Exploration geology must have one of the highest divorce rates of any profession.”

Felderhof says he remains on good terms with both ex-wives and has four children, seven stepchildren and 12 grandchildren. But he credits his third wife Maria with helping get his life back in the wake of the four dark years he experienced after Bre-X imploded.

In Bali, Felderhof was earning a living from a small tropical plant business called Inter-Flora Plants that he set-up with one of his two daughters from his first marriage. He exported the house plants and dry-stem arrangements to Australia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. Felderhof’s daughter and son-in-law continue to manage the enterprise from their home in Sydney, and he receives a small royalty on the income.

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