$8 billion resource reserve likely to lift Bolivia's depressed economy

The total value of the copper, silver, indium and manganese reserves discovered by South Korean company Kores in Bolivia last year, may be worth more than $8 billion, said the State-owned Mining Corporation (Comibol) to local newspaper La Razon.

According to Comibol’s president, Hector Cordova, a potential agreement to explore the deposit between the government and Kores would allow the underprivileged country to tap into international markets and, more importantly, sell its vast quantities of lithium worldwide.

Though rich in mineral and energy resources, data from the Unicef shows that Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and the weakest economy in all of South America.  Cordova  believes a deal with Kores could help the country mitigate the effects of poverty.

In October 2011, Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) confirmed the finding of a huge reservoir of about 100 million tonnes of copper in Corocoro, located 110 kilometers southwest of capital La Paz.

Young Hwan Moon, President of Corocobre, a subsidiary of Kores, and operator of a proposed venture between the Asian company and Bolivia, said the deposit covers 51 mining concessions in an area of 27.2 square kilometres.

The exploration program's first phase, with an estimated investment of $7 million, began in October 2009 and ended last year. It included 32,000 meters of drilling and excavation of trenches in more than 3,000 meters.

Another $3 million is being invested in the second phase, which includes metallurgical testing and feasibility studies expected to end in December this year. If the project is determined to be feasible, construction is planned to commence in 2013 with an estimated project capex of $200 million.

Political controversy

Kores seems so confident in the viability of the project that Lee Sang-deuk, former six-term term lawmaker and older brother of President Lee Myung-bak, announced he is travelling to Bolivia next month to fine tune the deal.

According to Korea Times, Lee Sang-deuk is facing bitter criticism over the planned visit:

His aide claims that the former legislator has been scheduling a meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales on behalf of a consortium of six Korean companies, which will sign a $3 million project to set up a joint venture with Bolivia’s state-run miner.

Opponents said Lee has nothing to do in the South American country, as he does not have any official title and his only merit is to be the brother of the state’s chief executive.

Lee has been involved in various corruption accusations, says the Korea Times article, ranging from an alleged receipt of about $345 million (400 million won) in return for lobbying to prevent the closure of a savings bank and influence peddling to help Mirae Savings Bank attract investment.