Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD) said it will take civil and criminal action against those circulating “irresponsible and false statements” on social media, purporting to link chief executive Mark Bristow’s recent visit to Papua New Guinea to attempts to oust prime minister James Marape.
The nation is currently embroiled in political turmoil after dozens of government members — including nine ministers — abandoned Marape in parliament on November 12 to sit on opposition benches.
The opposition then took control of parliament and voted 57-39 to suspend sessions, ostensibly to block the passage of the government’s budget, but with an agenda to remove the prime minister.
Lawmakers are reportedly set to meet on December 1 with the intention of moving a motion of no-confidence against Marape.
Bristow and his team met Marape in October when talks concluded with a deal to end a six-month dispute over mining rights to the Porgera gold mine.
The executive was in PNG last week, when political chaos erupted in the capital of Port Moresby. He held talks with landowners to discuss royalty arrangements over its halted Porgera mine, part of Barrick’s efforts to reopen the remote gold operation.
The world’s second-largest gold miner and its Chinese partner, Zijin Mining, had become embroiled in a dispute with the PNG government in April, when Marape refused to renew the companies’ Porgera licence.
The companies temporarily halted operations in response. They also served Marape with a dispute notice arguing the license extension refusal violated a bilateral investment treaty between PNG and Australia.
Social media posts have attempted to link Bristow’s visit to ongoing attempts to remove Marape.
“As the Prime Minister himself acknowledged in an interview broadcast on Sunday 15 November, investor partners of Papua New Guinea do not involve themselves in the nation’s internal political affairs,” Barrick Nuigini (BNL), Porgera’s operator, said in the statement.
“During his recent visit, Mr. Bristow and his team did not meet with anyone other than prime minister Marape, together with several of his ministerial colleagues, Enga governor Peter Ipatas, members of the state negotiating team, and the Porgera landowners and their team,” BNL noted.
Marape swept to power last year with a pledge to increase the state’s share of wealth from the production and export of materials. He also criticized previous deals, and is pursuing energy giant Exxon Mobil Corp. for better terms on a gas investment.
Porgera is owned 47.5% by Barrick and 47.5% by Zijin Mining, with the remaining 5% held by the Enga provincial government and landowners.
The gold operation, which last year produced 284,000 ounces, contributes to about 10% of PNG’s exports and employs over 3,300 Papua New Guinea nationals.