Guinea to probe 3 mining firms

[] — Guinea, the world’s biggest bauxite exporter and a source of gold and iron ore, will audit at least three of the foreign mining firms working there, its government said late on Wednesday.

The government has set up an audit committee to look into the Guinean operations of Russian metals firm UC RUSAL, world No. 3 gold miner AngloGold Ashanti, and Norwegian firm Kenor, Ousmane Kaba, vice-president of the committee, said on state television.

“We will do this to find out what has really happened,” Kaba said, speaking in the presence of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, whose junta took power in the West African state last December.

“The list is not exhaustive. We can increase it if necessary,” he added.

Camara’s administration began by taking an aggressive stance against mining firms, and though this appeared to have softened later in the year, recent events indicate he may be changing tack again.

Last week RUSAL halted operations at Friguia, the country’s biggest alumina refinery, after the government banned exports during a dispute over environmental tax. The ban was lifted on Wednesday.

“Friguia is operating and shipping its products as normal,” RUSAL said on Thursday.

Guinea is investigating the conditions of the 2006 sale of Friguia to RUSAL. If the deal is found unlawful, Guinea will demand that RUSAL pays compensation or forfeit the contract.

RUSAL has said it is confident the deal is legitimate. “Friguia was sold for $22 million, but when taking into account the price of alumina at the moment of transfer, its value is estimated at between $250 million and $1 billion, depending on the method of calculation used,” said Habib Hann, another member of the audit committee.