Papua New Guinea accuses Barrick of plan to illegally export gold

SINGAPORE, June 5 (Reuters) - Papua New Guinea’s mining regulator said on Friday it is planning to bring criminal proceedings against a Barrick Gold Corp joint venture over what it says was an attempt to illegally export $13 million in silver and gold to Australia. PNG’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) said it had received paperwork from the Barrick Niugini joint venture on Monday seeking clearance to export silver and gold worth a total of 46.7 million kina ($13.1 million) to the Perth Mint.

However the MRA said Barrick Niugini was prohibited from processing or exporting gold following the government’s refusal to extend its mining lease in April. Barrick is challenging the decision not to extend the lease in court.

Barrick Niugini said it “entirely repudiates the claim that it has sought to export any gold unlawfully”.

The joint venture between Barrick and China’s Zijin Mining Group said it had always complied with its legal obligations regarding gold exports.

Barrick and Zijin had no immediate response when contacted by email, nor did lawyer Derek Wood who has represented the joint venture in its dispute over the lease to the Porgera mine.

Canada’s Barrick, the world’s second-biggest gold miner, is locked in a dispute over the future of its operations in Papua New Guinea following the government’s refusal to extend the Porgera lease. The latest move could signal a further breakdown in relations. ($1 = 3.5651 kinas) (Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne and Tom Daly in Beijing; Editing by Jan Harvey)