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Barrick (ABX) at Pascua Lama: The latest from the Chilean courtrooms

The judgment handed down from Chile's Supreme Court yesterday was on a majority, was largely technical in nature and it's still missing a ruling on a couple of key points, but the essence of the thing is:

  • Barrick wanted to pay the ~U$16m fine that was slapped on it by Chile's Environment Superintendency (SMA), because it considered it a good deal under the circumstances and once paid, they could get on with reactivating their white elephant supreme.
  • But the courts stopped them from paying it, saying it was badly done and too little. The case reached the Supreme Court a couple of months ago and the partial ruling came yesterday.
  • And the ruling: The Supreme Court says ABX can't pay the $16m because it says the SMA went about its job incorrectly and should have fined Barrick for separate infractions, rather than lumping them all into one fine.
  • With this ruling the chances are that ABX is facing a much bigger enviro fine, with estimates ranging between U$130m and U$300m. Yeah, seriously.
  • Whether or not that kind of number happens, or whether ABX will eventually pay, is a question for 2015. What we do know is that the SMA has to come up with a new number to fine ABX. 

Meanwhile, the lack of enviro resolution and green light that will come from a fine payment continues. This is why the JV deal with Zijin (and some say Citic is still in the wings) hasn't happened yet. After all, would you want to walk in on a large percentage of a $300m fine just for fun?

Bottom line: FUBAR meets SNAFU at Pascua Lama. Kind of ironic that Argentina is the one that's all happy and welcoming about this project while Chile causes all the problems, isn't it?