* Centerra rejects government's claim
* Kyrgyzstan ups pressure, wants 67 pct in proposed venture
* Govt has till Dec. 23 to report on venture talks
(Adds comments from Centerra vice president, market reaction)
By Olga Dzyubenko
BISHKEK, Dec 6 Kyrgyzstan is suing Canada's
Centerra Gold for 15 billion soms ($304 million) over
what the government says is ecological damage, marking a new
twist in a bitter row with the investor running the largest
Kyrgyz gold mine.
The state environmental protection and forestry agency said
in a statement that it had filed the lawsuit at an economic
court in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, saying Centerra Gold had
ignored its earlier request for voluntary compensation.
It said the alleged ecological damage included "emissions of
pollutants and waste dumps." It said its claim referred to the
company's operations between 1996 and 2011.
John Pearson, Centerra's vice president of investor
relations, said the claims were first disclosed in February.
"As we said before, we feel that these are unfounded
allegations and are without merit," he said.
Centerra Gold had said earlier that it viewed the
government's claim as exaggerated and unfounded.
"The company disagrees with these charges and plans to give
explanations on this matter in the nearest time," said a
spokesman for the Kumtor Operating Company (KOC), the Centerra
subsidiary that runs the Kumtor mine in the Tien Shan mountains.
The Toronto-listed miner, a major foreign-currency earner
for the Central Asian nation of 5.5 million, is already under
pressure from the Kyrgyz parliament, which demands the state
hold 67 percent in a proposed joint venture to run the mine.
In September, the government and Centerra Gold signed a
memorandum of understanding, paving the way for Kyrgzstan to
swap its 32.7 percent stake in the Canadian firm for 50 percent
in a venture that would own Kumtor.
But in October the legislature voted to tear up the document
and seek control over the planned venture. It gave the cabinet
until Dec. 23 to report on its talks with Centerra Gold on
setting up the venture.
Pearson said Centerra is having "constructive dialogue" with
the Kyrgyz government.
The Kumtor mine, bisected by a glacier 4,000 metres (13,000
feet) above sea level, is the largest gold mine in Central Asia
operated by a Western company. It is the industrial centerpiece
of the fragile Kyrgyz economy, alone contributing 12 percent of
gross domestic product in 2011.
Kyrgyzstan's GDP shrank by 0.9 percent last year, after
Centerra Gold reduced output at Kumtor by 40 percent as a result
of ice movement in the pit.
In July, Centerra Gold raised its annual consolidated gold
production outlook to a range of 615,000 to 675,000 ounces from
its previous range of 605,000 to 660,000 ounces, compared with
387,076 ounces produced in 2012.
Shares fell 3.7 percent to C$3.60 on the Toronto Stock
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko, with additional reporting by
Allison Martell in Toronto; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing
by Dale Hudson and Marguerita Choy)