Barrick under pressure in Mali as regime eyes control of Loulo-Gounkoto

Loulo Gounkoto underground. Image from Barrick.

Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX; NYSE: GOLD) is under increasing pressure in Mali as the country’s military regime seeks to tighten its grip on the lucrative mining sector, The Globe and Mail reported.

After seizing power in a coup in 2021 and forming an alliance with Russian mercenary Wagner Group, the Mali junta has been focusing on the mining industry. They conducted an industry audit and introduced a new mining code aimed at expanding state control over mining companies.

Recent reports suggest that the regime may be planning to seize control of Barrick’s key mining complex, Loulo-Gounkoto, one of the world’s largest gold-producing mines. Barrick has declined to comment.

According to the Africa Defense Forum, published by the Africa Command of the US military, Barrick’s gold mining complex in Mali is now “in Russia’s crosshairs.”

In January, Russian soldiers reportedly seized control of the Intahaka gold mine, the largest artisanal mine site in northern Mali, remaining for a brief period.

As detailed by The African Report, this was not the first time that men from the Wagner Group had taken control of artisanal gold mining sites in Mali.

By early 2023, they had discreetly taken over at least three mines south of Bamako: Balandougou, located approximately 20 km from the border with Guinea; Koyoko, another nearby gold panning site in the Kangaba Cercle; and a third site near Yanfolila. Similar to Intahaka, they only stayed for a short time before moving on.

Regarding Barrick, The African Report has also heard from several Malian sources close to the matter that major negotiations aimed at removing the company from management of the Loulo and Gounkoto sites are underway in Bamako.

Barrick executives told the publication that they are not concerned about the operating licences.

“They are based on the 1991 mining code and not on the new one,” said a local Barrick Gold manager, adding that “the authorities can’t do as they please and change a contract at their whim.”

Barrick CEO Mark Bristow has visited Mali twice since late January, emphasizing the contributions made by Barrick’s mines to Mali’s economy. These contributions include nearly $10 billion in taxes, royalties, salaries, and payments to local suppliers, constituting 5% to 10% of the country’s GDP, the company said.

Just over the past 12 months, the complex has contributed more than $1 billion to the Malian economy, according to the Toronto-based gold miner.

The Loulo-Gounkoto complex currently holds proven and probable gold reserves estimated at 6.7 million ounces, with measured and indicated gold resources totaling 9.1 million ounces. It produced 683,000 ounces of gold in 2023 and is on track to meet its production guidance for the current quarter and the year.