Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) strongly rejects claims it has been “dealt a major blow” in a “landmark case” in the Supreme Court of Victoria (Australia).
These were made in an article published in the Post Courier on 19 July. It is regrettable that BCL was not given an opportunity to respond to a completely biased interpretation of a court judgement.
The matter referred to was neither a landmark case nor a major blow for BCL. Instead, the court denied the company’s application for a procedural discovery order for RTG Mining Inc (a company from the British Virgin Islands) and an Australian company called Central Exploration Pty Ltd, to produce documents relating to payments made to landowner association members or others in the Panguna mine area.
Landowner group SMLOLA has previously nominated RTG as its partner in a joint venture proposal to redevelop the mine. This proposal however lacked the support of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and other separate landowners.
BCL sought the court order in 2018 as part of its investigations into whether unlawful payments have been made in the project area to oppose BCL’s interests and to encourage favour for the competing proposal.
While the Victorian Supreme Court declined BCL’s application, it does not affect the company’s right to pursue relief through the court. The only impact of the decision is that RTG would be required to provide any documents after proceedings had commenced rather than prior.
Also, the claim that members of the SMLOLA, and they only, are the customary landowners and only they have the right to grant or deny access to the Panguna mine site are entirely misleading.
The court noted that while it appears the SMLOLA was formed to represent the interests of customary landowners, it was never registered as an “approved” landowner organisation under the 2015 Mining Act and therefore has no legal recognition under it.
Outside the court process, persistent claims by the SMLOLA to represent the interests of all customary landowners are simply false.
BCL continues to hold tenement rights in regard to Panguna which are subject to a judicial review process in the PNG National Court.
BCL today is a predominantly PNG and Bougainvillean-owned company and retains strong levels of support among customary landowners.