The mystery of MICHAEL de GUZMAN
Four wives, nine children and one gigantic mining scandal are all part of the legacy left by Bre-X geologist Michael de Guzman. But it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, even life from death, in the lore of gold mining’s true man of mystery.
Ten years ago, they gathered to bury a brother, husband, father and friend. Today, they just want to bury speculation he’s still living. Whether dead or alive, the mystery surrounding Michael de Guzman endures.
Sitting inside a McDonald’s restaurant in chaotic Quezon City, Jojo de Guzman says his brother, the man at the centre of the Bre-X Minerals scam, is gone — at least in the heart of his family.
“My brother is dead,” declares Jojo. “We do not know the exact reason why he is, but my family has accepted his demise.”
“It is final for us,” adds younger brother Laurence, who slept beside Michael’s casket the night before the funeral at a local cemetery. “Mike is the one buried in Holy Cross.”
The myths surrounding Michael de Guzman are worthy of a Hollywood script, complete with money, love and betrayal.
They’ve only deepened in the decade since he reportedly fell out the doors of an Alouette III helicopter high above the Borneo jungle.
At the time, life for the 41-year-old geologist was wearing thin as he juggled four wives and families, none of whom knew about each other.
He was diagnosed with hepatitis B and about to face tough questions about why a large independent mining company couldn’t find gold at a remote site that was supposedly among the world’s biggest deposits.
In March 1997, Indonesian police ruled de Guzman’s death a suicide, even though his body wasn’t recovered for days and had decomposed beyond recognition.
During the surreal period that followed, he was fingered as the mastermind of a tampering scam that convinced the world Bre-X controlled a 70-million ounce gold discovery at its Busang site.
Yet, nothing is straightforward in the shadowy life of Michael de Guzman.
In the days following his death, the National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines had trouble matching his fingerprints and identifying the corpse.
Today, the Indonesian doctor who did an autopsy on the body says he can’t be certain the remains he examined a decade ago belonged to the Bre-X exploration manager.
Another forensic scientist, known as the Sherlock Holmes of the Philippines, reviewed the case for the family and believes de Guzman was tortured and murdered, likely for information about the gold site.
Then there’s his love life, a sordid tale in its own right — four wives with nine children between them, scattered across Southeast Asia.
One Indonesian woman who had two kids with the polygamist claims de Guzman is alive and has deposited money into her bank account. A Filipina, who first wed de Guzman, remains convinced he’s dead. She faithfully visits his gravesite at the Holy Cross cemetery in Quezon City.
It’s a conviction shared by another woman — de Guzman’s third wife — who maintains the body she identified through photographs 10 years ago was her husband.