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Work halted at Simandou iron ore project
April 10, 2014

All work on the southern section of the Simandou iron-ore project that was awarded to BSG Resources by a former Guinea dictator in 2008 and 50 percent-sold to Vale has been halted as the government of Guinea revisits all mining contracts entered into under previous regimes.

A report in Businessweek said the technical committee set up by Guinea said it found evidence of corruption in the award of the licenses for Simandou’s blocks 1 and 2 and the Zogota project. This could potentially put one of the world's most sought-after mineral deposits back into play.

The recommendation follows a three-year investigation into how privately owned BSG Resources secured rights to the roughly 230-square-mile iron-ore concession in the Simandou Mountains.

Vale acquired the interest in Simandou from BSGR for $2.5 billion in 2010, but stopped payments after the first $500 million because certain progress milestones were not met.

Vale was not accused of any wrongdoing and BSGR has all along denied the claims maintaining that the review was a pretext to illegally seize the company's assets in Guinea.

According to a report by The Guardian Beny Steinmetz, the billionare who runs BSGR, had acquired the rights to the deposit in a deal as a result of a $165 million investment in the exploration of the area. It then sold 51 percent to Vale for $2.5 billion. This came days before the death of Guinea dictator Lansana Conté in 2008.

Conté had not long before stripped the Simandou blocks from Rio Tinto which had held the exploration rights since the late 1990, ostensibly over the Anglo-Australian company's failure to develop the deposits.

In its final report, the committee — made up of Guinean government bureaucrats — said it found there was "precise and coherent evidence" that Africa-focused BSG Resources had obtained the rights to Simandou through corruption, according to a copy of the report.

The Guardian reported that BSGR used intermediaries to pay bribes to Mamadie Touré, the wife of Conté.

Much of the evidence was gathered in the United States by the FBI during an inquiry into the activities of Frederic Cilins, an associate of Steinmetz, and handed over to the government of Guinea.

Cilins is said to have offered further bribes to Touré, totalling $150,000, to persuade her to destroy documents that allegedly detail the corrupt payments said to have secured the mining concessions.

Vale was not accused of any wrongdoing and BSGR has all along denied the claims maintaining that the review was a pretext to illegally seize the company's assets in Guinea.

The committee recommended that BSG Resources be barred from participating in any retendering of the licenses. However, the committee didn't recommend that Vale be similarly excluded.

Simandou's high-quality iron ore — extractable at margins comparable only to the lucrative Pilbara deposit in Australia —  retains an allure.

Though it is far from ports, roads and rail, the iron ore studded in Simandou's hills is easily extractable, which could keep processing costs in check. The deposit could hold about 150 million to 200 million tons of iron ore. At current prices, that would yield about $20 billion, though building the required infrastructure necessary to get the iron ore to market is estimated to cost about $10 billion.

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