Barrick Gold fears expropriation of Malian mine

By bne IntelliNews April 16, 2024

Barrick Gold, the Toronto-based mining giant, finds itself in the crosshairs of Mali's military junta amid a backdrop of increasing Russian influence in the West African nation's economy, The Globe and Mail reports. 

The regime, which seized power in a 2021 coup and subsequently allied with Moscow, has intensified efforts to assert control over the lucrative mining sector, including targeting Barrick's key asset, the Loulo-Gounkoto complex.

Mali's junta is considering expropriating the Loulo-Gounkoto mine, one of the world's largest gold-producing sites, The Globe and Mail writes. This move comes as part of broader efforts by the regime to tighten its grip on all aspects of the country, including suspending political activities and media coverage of political organisations.

The junta's alignment with the Russian military further complicates the situation. Russian troops have been involved in seizing mining sites in Mali and neighbouring countries, prompting accusations from the US government of using African mining revenue to fund global military operations.

Since the takeover, NYSE-listed Barrick has been navigating challenges posed by Mali's new mining code, increased state ownership requirements, and a contentious audit of the industry. 

Despite contributing significantly to Mali's economy, tensions between Barrick and the government persist, with the company disputing audit findings and facing potential expropriation threats.

If Mali, backed by Moscow, takes over the gold mine, it will not be the first time that Russia has de facto taken control of such an asset in Africa. In 2020, Russian mercenaries, employed by the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, captured an Axmin-owned mine in the Central African Republic. This then became a source of funding for Wagner.

Mali in November announced it had inked a deal with Russia to construct a gold refinery in the capital city with a 200-tonne annual capacity. It would be the largest gold refinery in West Africa.

Weeks earlier, a senior official from Mali's mines ministry said the country was on track to meet or possibly exceed its 67.7-tonne gold production forecast for the year 2023.

Speaking to Reuters, Mamadou Sidibe, head of the ministry's statistics department, said that Mali's gold mines, predominantly operated by industry giants like Barrick Gold, B2Gold, Resolute Mining, Allied Gold, and Endeavour Mining, had already produced 45.4 tonnes, surpassing the initial projection of 43 tonnes, by the end of august 2023.

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