Turkey releases top exec detained after gold mine landslide disaster within hours

Turkey releases top exec detained after gold mine landslide disaster within hours
Radar image of landslide at that struck Turkey's Çopler Mine on February 13. / Capella Space
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade February 19, 2024

Cengiz Demirci, Toronto-listed and Denver-based SSR Mining’s (SSRM’s) Turkey director, was released just six hours after he was detained as part of the probe into the deadly landslide that last week struck the Anagold Madencilik Copler copper-gold mine, according to local media reports published on February 19. The release was reportedly made on the instruction of the Erzincan Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.

On February 18, government officials released a photo of Demirci after gendarmerie forces placed him in detention in the wake of the disaster.

Nine miners remain missing. It is thought they became trapped under cyanide-laden soil at the mine in the vicinity of Ilic town in Turkey’s northeastern Erzincan province.

The Copler mine has been operated by Anagold Madencilik, an 80:20 JV between SSR Mining and Istanbul-based Calik Holding (owned by Ahmet Calik), since 2009.

The landslide hit the mine on February 13.

On February 16, Anagold posted a job ad on Linkedin for eight positions, including a quality controller and a sampler.

On February 17, the government stated that it had withdrawn Anagold’s environmental permit.

On February 19, Deniz Yavuzyilmaz, an MP of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that Anagold’s licences had not in fact been revoked.

In 2022, a pipe carrying cyanide to the cyanide pool at the mine burst, causing a cyanide spillage. A process called “cyanidation”, or cyanide leaching, is used in gold extraction.

After the burst pipe incident, the mine resumed operations after three months.

Anagold’s tax debt was written off a couple of months later.

During his tenure as chief public prosecutor in Erzincan (2007-2010), Ilhan Cihaner in 2009 documented an exchange of bribes between Bayram Bozkurt, a prosecutor in Erzincan at that time but currently a fugitive Gulenist, and Anagold.

The bribes in question were routed through the law office of a son of former Justice and Development Party (AKP) Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin.

In 2010, Cihaner, when incumbent chief prosecutor in Erzincan, was detained at his office as part of the so-called Ergenekon investigations. Bozkurt served as a secret witness in the Ergenekon trials.

The Gulenist clan was part of the Erdogan regime at that time. The Ergenekon trials were executed to remove the military tutelage regime.

After the military tutelage regime was removed, the Gulenists entered into an at times furious battle with Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but all illegal operations in the country conducted by the powers that be, including thievery, looting, suppression and slaughter, continued apace.

Local journalists covering the Anagold mine describe the situation as “colonial mining”. Increasingly since the 80s, Turkey has invited in investors who exploit the country’s natural resources with approved schemes that are not, in the eyes of critical observers, at all in the interests of ordinary citizens.

Copler mine produced 56,768 ounces of gold in the third-quarter of last year. It is SSR's second-largest producing gold mine. After news of the disaster broke, around a billion dollars was wiped from SSR’s share price.

The company said in a regulatory filing on February 14 that Copler operations were suspended as a result of a "large slip on the heap leach pad".

The Landslide Blog on February 19 reported on satellite imagery of the landslide.

Blog author Dave Petley noted that, on social media platform X, Tolga Gorum correctly identified that an image shows that the landslide moved in two directions, with the majority moving into a valley, but a portion moving into the main pit of the mine.

He also wrote: “The search for the remains of the missing staff continue. It is estimated that 35 million cubic metres of waste will need to be moved, equating to 400,000 truck loads (I assume that this is predicated on using the very large mining dump trucks, as the number is too low for normal trucks). Note that the volume of the landslide is rather larger than previous estimates.”

“Six other employees of the mine [apart from Demirci] have also been arrested. The accusation appears to be that they ignored signs of movement in the leach heap prior to the failure,” added Petley. “The trigger of the failure remains unclear, if indeed there was one. There are suggestions that blasting may have been a factor, but this would not be normal in a leach heap.

“The ultimate cost of this landslide is likely to be many multiples of the money saved on mining operations through inadequate construction and/or operation of the leach heap.”