Dis­pute over Halkidiki gold mines in­ten­si­fies

Kathimerini English - - Focus - EVGENIA TZORTZI

Hel­las Gold’s in­vest­ment in Halkidiki is test­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Greek gov­ern­ment and El­do­rado Gold, the Cana­dian firm be­hind the op­er­a­tion, as well as with SYRIZA’s left wing, which has MPs from the area and has re­acted to the gold min­ing project.

Af­ter De­fense Min­is­ter Panos Kam­menos, who also leads the ju­nior coali­tion part­ner In­de­pen­dent Greeks (ANEL), re­ferred to the project be­ing a “fraud” and a “money-laun­der­ing” ex­er­cise, ten­sions have reached a new level and Hel­las Gold has said it re­serves the right to launch le­gal ac­tion.

This new round of ten­sion came af­ter En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Gior­gos Stathakis an­nounced the de­ci­sion to re­fer the gov­ern­ment’s dis­pute with the com­pany over op­er­at­ing li­censes to an ar­bi­tra­tion process. The min­istry claims that Hel­las Gold is not liv­ing up to the terms of its con­tract but the com­pany points out that it has been vin­di­cated in 16 cases with re­gard to its en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies.

Sources at the com­pany say they feel they are be­ing held hostage and that they be­lieve there are po­lit­i­cal mo­tives be­hind the gov­ern­ment’s ac­tion.

The coali­tion has yet to is­sue an op­er­at­ing li­cense for the pro­cess­ing plant at Olympias, one of the two gold mines man­aged by Hel­las Gold. The com­pany was due to in­au­gu­rate the fa­cil­i­ties on Septem­ber 15 but has now post­poned this un­til fur­ther no­tice.

The op­er­at­ing per­mit is vi­tal to the con­tin­u­a­tion of the project and the com­pany had been hop­ing to move for­ward, as was un­der­lined by the fact that of­fi­cials, unions and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of busi­nesses from all over Europe had been in­vited to the in­au­gu­ra­tion that was can­celed last week.

Work­ers’ unions say that the de­lay in is­su­ing the li­cense is also why they in­tend to hold protests in Septem­ber. They say their jobs are at risk be­cause of the fail­ure to pro­vide a per­mit for the new fa­cil­i­ties at Olympias. The work­ers ar­gue that this process should have been con­cluded in Jan­uary and have called on the En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry to ex­plain why it has yet to give its ap­proval.

El­do­rado Gold’s share value has dropped by more than 50 per­cent since the start of the year, largely due to the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing its in­vest­ment in Greece.

Hel­las Gold has in­vested in two mines.

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