The Remote Island Sitting on $58 Billion of Gold and Copper – by Aaron Clark and Dan Murtaugh (Bloomberg News – February 12, 2019)

A mining company claiming interests in copper and gold reserves estimated at $58 billion on the Pacific island of Bougainville said its rights are under threat by efforts to revive the resource sector in the run up to a independence referendum.

At the heart of the dispute is the Panguna mine, which was operated by Sydney-listed Bougainville Copper Ltd. for 17 years before shutting in 1989 amid clashes that killed as many as 20,000 people in the autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.

Now the company, known as BCL, is warning investors that legislation proposed by Bougainville’s government will make significant changes to its mining law, including granting powers to a new British Virgin Island-registered company to take mining leases across the island.

“These proposed bills appear to further undermine our rights under the Bougainville Mining Act,” Company Secretary Mark Hitchcock said by email. “We still assert our rights to ownership.” Officials with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and Executive Council didn’t respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

The changes to the mining law come as Bougainville moves toward an independence referendum as soon as this year, which may push it to seek new revenue streams to replace current subsidies from Papua New Guinea.

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