TCC counsel tells SC BHP was ready to sell licence for $100
ISLAMABAD: A counsel representing the Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) startled the Supreme Court on Thursday when he said the BHP, the company which had first come to explore copper and gold deposits at Reko Diq in Balochistan, offered to sell its prospecting licence to a new buyer for a paltry sum of $100 after having wasted 10 years and spent millions of dollars and achieving nothing.
“The BHP lost interest after getting zero results from EL-5 (Reko Diq) despite spending millions of dollars and went out in the market to hunt for a prospective buyer by offering for $100 the prospecting licence it got from the Balochistan government,” Advocate Khalid Anwar said before a three-judge bench.
But Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry observed that nobody would accept this because `God forbid fools are not sitting here`, because certain interests were always there behind such deals.
“You cannot even buy a shirt from `Marks and Spencer` for $100, not even a common shirt, what to talk of an exploration licence,” the chief justice said. He was heading the bench hearing a set of petitions filed to block the award of a possible copper and gold exploration contract to TCC — a Canadian and Chilean consortium of Barrick Gold and Antofagasta Minerals — for exploring gold and copper in Reko Diq, a small desert town in Chaghai district of Balochistan that sits over what is known as the Tethyan copper with the fifth largest deposits of gold and copper in the world.
Khalid Anwar said the BHP was selling the prospecting licence for $100 to another firm in its own interest but with a condition that the interested party would work at the site for six months and if it discovered certain precious deposits, the BHP would then enter into an alliance with it by sharing profits from the venture.
The court again asked Balochistan Advocate General Amanullah Kinrani to have a detailed discussion with the Balochistan chief minister and the chief secretary because the provincial government had already awarded so many concessions to the foreign firm.
“Whatever the BHP said, the Balochistan government accepted,” the chief justice said, adding that it was for the provincial government to take a final decision in this regard.
The court is only concerned with the legal aspect of the matter, like examining the validity of the rules and the joint venture agreement (JVA) between BHP and the Balochistan Development Board (BDA).
Otherwise the court would decide the controversy on merit, the chief justice said, adding that the court was not competent to look into the matter which was not its domain.
In June 1993 the BDA and BHP, and a number of experts, had entered into the joint venture agreement which was approved by the then chief minister of Balochistan.
During the proceedings when Khalid Anwar said that no allegation of corruption had ever been levelled against the BHP although such allegations were levelled against the present provincial as well as the federal governments, the Balochistan advocate general said that Atta Mohammad, who had signed the agreement with the BHP on behalf of the BDA, was a known corrupt person and was dismissed from the job on corruption charges.
This prompted another BHP counsel Abdul Hafeez Pirzada to suggest to the advocate general to become a petitioner instead of being a respondent pleading the government`s point of view.
Khalid Anwar, citing rules, tried to establish that being the holder of the exploration licence, his client`s company reserved the legal right to ask for mining lease rights and that the TCC had already applied for that on February 19.
The Supreme Court has already stayed the Balochistan government from issuing a lease to any exploration company till its final decision, although companies could apply for it.
Khalid Anwar said that attempts were made by the petitioners to get judges` sympathy by giving the impression that loot, plunder and corruption were committed by foreign companies.
He also said that although he had enormous respect for nuclear scientist Dr Samar Mubarkmand, but whatever he said before this court about a project was not his position but that of the Planning Commission from which the commission subsequently backed out.
Dr Samar Mubarkmand had told the apex court on Jan 12 that the country could earn $2 billion a year by developing the Reko Diq copper and gold project in Balochistan on its own — several times more than a paltry return of $160 million offered to the provincial government by the TCC.