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New legal action against Barrick over Pascua Lama protocol
December 13th, 2012

A Chilean lawyer has filed legal action to force the world’s largest gold producer Barrick Gold executives to appear in a Canadian court to respond to accusations that the company falsified information included in the Pascua Lama protocol between Argentina and Chile in 2004, for the development of the Pascua Lama gold mine.

The $8.5-billion Pascua Lama project, straddling the Argentina and Chile border is Barrick’s most important project worldwide and is scheduled to start production in 2014.

Barrick denies the accusation.

“Barrick has all the necessary rights to develop the Pascua Lama mine,” spokespersonAndy Lloyd told Mining Weekly Online. He added that the company had no further comment to make on this particular case.

In a motion filed at the Office of the Northcentral District Attorney on December 6, lawyerJuan Guillermo Torres asks Chilean authorities to start the process of investigating claims that part of Pascua Lama is not owned by Barrick.

Torres has petitioned that Barrick executives appear before a Toronto court to answer to the alleged falsification. The executives named in the lawsuit include Barrick chairpersonPeter Munk and vice chairperson William Birchall as well as Gustavo Cisneros, a Barrick board member who heads up the Venezuelan conglomerate Cisneros Group. 

Torres filed the motion on behalf of Canada-based mining company Mountainstar Gold and its joint venture partner, Chilean-Canadian mining investor Jorge Rodrigo Lopehandia Cortas, president and CEO of Chile Mineral Fields Canada.

Both have tried to stop the Pascua Lama project before through legal actions.

Lopehandia’s conflict with Barrick goes back more than a decade, starting in 2001 when he claimed to be one of three true owners of an area adjacent to Pascua Lama, which Barrick had bought from two other individuals in 1994. 

Meanwhile, Barrick sued Lopehandia in Canada for libel in October 2002. A Canadian judge found in favour of Barrick in 2003 but refused to award punitive damages, leading Barrick to appeal.

In 2004, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered Lopehandia to pay general damages of $75 000 and punitive damages of $50 000 to Barrick. It also granted a permanent injunction restraining Lopehandia and Chile Mineral Fields Canada from posting on the Internet or publishing defamatory comments concerning Barrick or its officers, directors or employees.

Last month, Mountainstar announced legal action by Lopehandia against the Chilean government – in a case filed at the 23d Civil Court in Santiago – aimed at nullifying the Pascua Lama Protocol based on evidence of improper inclusion of the Tesoros concessions by Barrick Gold Corporation's Chilean subsidiaries, in the Protocol.  It states that Barrick subsidiary Minera Nevada Limitada had no title to the Tesoros concessions, which remain under injunction from 2001 in Lopehandia’s name. 

“The impeached Tesoros concessions are included as an asset in the Protocol (or as an asset of Barrick Gold Corporation, to date); hence the action to nullify the Tesoros concessions as being subject to the Protocol,” the statement from Mountainstar says.

In August, Torres filed criminal charges for injuries (libel and perjury) in Chile against Barrick and Minera Nevada on behalf of Lopehandia.

The latest petition by Torres will have to be approved by the Chilean Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court and the Foreign Ministry, as well as Canadian judicial authorities.


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