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Archive: Frank Timis and Rosia Montana’s Gold

From: CRJI.ORG Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism

Wednesday, May 22th 2002: “Vasile Frank Timis, the Mastermind Behind the ‘Rosia Montana’ Operation, Was Sentenced Twice, Charged With Possession of Heroin – Romania’s Gold, in an Adventurer’s Hands”

Paul Cristian Radu, Dan Badea, Stefan Candea, Sorin Ozon

Romania’s most significant gold diggings have fallen into the hands of a Romanian adventurer, who, two decades ago, settled himself somewhere in western Australia. Romanian-Australian Vasile Frank Timis is a trained car mechanic. He was sentenced twice, charged with drug possession. But he has managed to make legal one of the most important financial engineering schemes in Romania’s history. He took over the exploitation and making valuable the natural deposits of gold in the Apuseni Mountains’ area from the Romanian State.

Frank Timis and Rosia Montana

“Gold is a commodity just like any other.” This is what Vasile Frank Timis said. He is the mastermind of the deals carried out at Rosia Montana, where the most important gold deposits in Europe are. The Romanian government leased the exploitation of a huge quantity of gold, which is worth more than $3 billion, in exchange for some promises and an amount of money that seem ridiculous compared to the deposit’s value. In practice, the gold at Rosia Montana has been sold in exchange for $3 million, paid in 1997 with the field’s lease. Timis also promised he would invest another $400 million, which represented production costs, and that 25,000 jobs would be created in the region.

The Golden Quadrilateral

“Think of the Gabriel Resources Company as if it were some sort of Count Dracula of the gold mines.” This is what a report drafted by the well-known US financial analysis company Hoover’s said, when making an assessment of the Gabriel Resources Company. The comparison is not at all wrong if we take into consideration the fact that the latter draws its financial strength from the Transylvanian field. A Transylvanian who emigrated to Australia is behind all the actions carried out by this company. Vasile Frank Timis was born in 1964 in Borsa, Maramures County. He managed to graduate from a vocational school for car mechanics. In 1981 he left the country and settled in Australia, in Perth.

Some Romanian citizens in the land of the kangaroos got involved in drug trafficking and underwater pearl “hunting.” Even if Vasile Frank Timis worked as a seasonal worker at a company exploring for pearls, the ties he had with the underworld sent him twice before the Australian courts. According to a report drafted by Dundee Securities Corp., Vasile Frank Timis was sentenced twice in Australia (1990 and 1994). He was charged with possession of heroin. He also paid two fines, amounting to 10,000 and 17,000 Australian dollars. According to Australian law, the heroin quantities that Timis had on him allegedly pointed to intended trafficking. This is what triggered the aforementioned sanctions. Vasile Frank Timis said the following about this episode in his life. “Everybody can make mistakes when he or she is young. George Bush also had some problems in his youth. How can I tell you, when I was young, I was involved in some adventures with bad guys. We stayed in the same dwelling, and things happened. I was in their gang. Others made mistakes, but I was the one who was detained.”

The person who was to become the mastermind of the gold deals in Transylvania returned to Romania in 1994. In the beginning, he was a representative of some foreign investors, who operated businesses involving gold mines. The genuine goal of Timis’ return to Romania was to purchase the gold mines in the Apuseni Mountains and in the Carpathian Mountains. More precisely, it concerned the area named “Romania’s Golden Quadrilateral.” It is a 500 square kilometer area in the Apuseni and Metalliferous [?Metalici] Mountains. This area includes the
following localities: Rosia Montana, Bucium, Certej, Zlatna, Bolcana, Barza-Brad, and Baita Craciunesti. However, at that time, in 1994 and 1995, neither his personal financial situation nor the Romanian legislation in force allowed the high-aiming Timis to make a quick move. That is why he chose the “step by step” tactic. The “Romanian Gold” operation required patience, persistence and, above all, the creation of an extremely complicated financial structure that could be used at the right time.

From Sterile to Gold

Moreover, at that time, namely at the middle of the 1990s, there was no official information about the quantities of gold existing in the Apuseni Mountains’ deposits. Nobody, except for Vasile Frank Timis, suspected that the Rosia Montana locality is placed above the greatest gold deposit in Europe: more than 300 metric tons of gold and more than 1,600 metric tons of silver. According to some calculations, the average value of the gold in Rosia Montana exceeds $3 billion. Similarly, important quantities of gold and silver are in the other areas that have been leased to companies Timis is also involved in. Sources from some groups that oppose Timis’ investments keep saying that the information about these deposits has been known since communist times. However, it was kept secret, as the deposits were considered to be strategic reserves. On the other hand, Vasile Frank Timis says that he did not learn about the gold in the Apuseni Mountains from the state’s classified archives, but from a famous geologist, Roy Cox. The latter was later recruited as director of his company, Gabriel Resources.

Timis also says that the geologist has lots of books about Romania’s geological potential, which were published in the interval between the two World Wars. Timis reportedly learned of the riches of Romania’s deposits from these books.

Romanian Gold, in Barbados and Jersey

Timis initiated the “Romanian Gold” operation seven years ago. At first he set up two offshore companies: Gabriel Resources Ltd., licensed in Jersey, Channel Islands, and Castle Europa Ltd., licensed in Barbados. Vasile Frank Timis was the majority shareholder in both concerns. The geologist Roy Cox, through the Lex Trust Company Ltd. was also an associate in Castle Europa.

In 1997, the two offshore companies controlled by Timis set up two new companies in Romania, together with the Public Corporation for Gold and Copper in Deva. They were Euro Gold Resources SA [stock company] (for the Rosia Montana and Bucium areas) and Deva Gold SA (for the Certej, Zlatna, Bolcana, and Baita-Craciunesti areas). This happened after 1995. That year, the investor Frank Timis had already set foot in the yard of the Public Corporation for Gold and Copper [RAC] in Deva. He concluded a cooperation agreement between the Romanian company and Gabriel Resources.

The agreement was signed without any previous check on Timis’ companies. At first it aimed only at turning to value the obtained ore, by using a classic method of exploitation. Later on, it was completely changed, by introducing two annexes. Thus, it passed from “the exploitation of ore obtained from…” to “the exploration and exploitation of the gold deposits” by means of some new joint companies. The state, represented by RAC Deva, held 20 percent of the social registered capital and Frank Timis’ company held 80 percent. This is how the joint companies Euro Gold Resources SA and Deva Gold were established. It is Frank Timis who controls these companies and not the Romanian State. This way, he also obtained the first rights to the gold diggings, over the whole exploitation period. RAC Deva, which later on
turned itself into Minvest SA, now has a 19 percent participation in the new joint venture companies’ capital. Similarly, Euro Gold Resources is currently named Rosia Montana Gold Corporation. The association with Minvest SA (formerly RAC Deva) has consequently been the critical point in Vasile Frank Timis’ deals. From that moment on, Timis – who had never been involved into such a great operation – started to run an important speculative operation abroad. Timis, armed with the deeds mentioning the Romanian associations, directed himself toward the Canadian Stock Exchange in Vancouver. To be able to get there, he entered an association with a mining company, set up in 1986 on the Yukon territories. At first the company’s name was Prospectors International Corporation. In 1994 it changed into Starx Resources. In 1997, following the merger with Gabriel Resources Ltd., Jersey, it became Gabriel Resources Ltd. Yukon-Canada. The setting up of other offshore companies accompanied their entrance on the Canadian Stock Exchange. They were used to carry out transactions with the Gabriel Resources shares. This way, other companies emerged that are fully under Timis’ control: Albion Holdings Limited in Barbados (with a branch in Deva, Hunedoara County), Maracs Holdings Ltd., and Louraine Holdings Ltd. These companies purchased shares or options from Gabriel Resources Ltd. In direct relation with the publication of reports about the gold at Rosia Montana, the value of the shares belonging to Gabriel Resources Ltd. started to increase, too. Consequently, Gabriel Resources’ listing moved from the Vancouver Stock Exchange to the more powerful Toronto Stock Exchange. That is why Vasile Frank Timis has become now, according to his own declarations, the president of a company whose value is assessed at $1 billion.

Timis, the Clairvoyant

The associations with Minvest SA were vital, because the public corporation held the mineral leases for the areas in which Timis was interested. Quite surprisingly, he forecast the fact that in 1998, the new law on mines would allow transferring these leases and the exploitation licenses from the Romanian company’s property to Euro Gold Resources and to Deva Gold SA companies and, later on, to the companies that control the latter. This means to the companies in Frank Timis’ network.

Consequently, at first, Minvest SA obtained exploitation licenses for the Rosia Montana, Bucium, Zlatna, Certej, and Bolcana areas. However, they were transferred in due time to the companies in which Frank Timis is a shareholder. Moreover, it has been already settled that when Deva Gold SA decided to start works at any of the aforementioned exploitations, Minvest SA must close down its working locations and take its equipment from the field. This is the final stage of taking the state out of the gold deal. In addition, according to a communique issued by the Gabriel Resources group of companies, Minvest SA is the sole entity responsible for expenditures that will arise when its employees’ activity ceases. In other words, the state “wipes” the traces, because it gets absolutely nothing out of it…

Romania’s (Dis)Advantages

In theory, just with the Timis-Rosia Montana deal, the Romanian State sold (in a manner of speaking) gold worth more than $3 billion. On the other hand, the Gabriel Resources Company paid the state $3 million for the lease. It promised it would make investments amounting to approximately $400 million for production expenditures. Frank Timis says that the company he is involved in can spend only approximately $100 million. The World Bank and other international financial institutions will assure the remaining money for the investment. The Gabriel Resources Company also promises that through this investment it will be possible to take out subsidies from the gold diggings and jobs will be created for more than 25,000 people. According to some assessments of the Gabriel Resources projects, carried out by the WWP Inc. company on 1 September 2001, Gabriel Resources Ltd. will benefit from tax exemptions until 2009 for the Rosia Montana project, and from all customs tax exemption throughout the project’s development. The state will gain only 2 percent from the obtained gross product, due to the exploitation of its gold deposits.

In an interview granted to the Evenimentul Zilei daily, Vasile Frank Timis said, “The state’s benefit is huge, because the Romanian mining industry is subsidized now. First of all, it will not receive any more subsidies (it is about gold diggings – Evenimentul Zilei editor’s note). Secondly, the Romanian State will benefit from the fact that the $400 million that will be spent for the project will be spent in Romania – Romanian iron and cement will be purchased and a Romanian labor force will be used.”

Questions for the Government

1. How was it possible for the Romanian State to enter a partnership, in an issue related to the national security, with such a dubious character as the Romanian-Australian Vasile Frank Timis?

2. Who and when did anybody check, if anybody did, the reliability of the company through which investor Frank Timis started to operate his businesses with the Romanian State?

3. Why did Romania’s natural gold deposits have to be exploited at this particular moment, in circumstances when the BNR [National Bank of Romania] does not have the slightest intention to purchase part of it?

4. Was not Romania able to exploit its gold diggings by itself, to its own interest? Who forced the authorities’ hand to dig out and export the gold in the Apuseni Mountains and why?

5. Did investor Frank Timis have any contribution to drafting of the mines’ law? If so, who was his “Trojan Horse” in the Ministry of Industry and Resources?

6. Is it possible for Frank Timis to have obtained information about the gold deposits in the Apuseni Mountains from classified documents in the Romanian archives?

7. Who are those who ensured a free path for Timis in this deal?

8. From the analysis of the web of companies set up by Vasile Frank Timis in various offshore locations, of the way in which they “moved,” and of some of these companies’ life expectancy, one can assume that this investor has something quite serious to hide. Does anybody know what in fact the person who took over the exploitation of the Romanian gold in
the Apuseni Mountains in such an easy manner is hiding? Or, at least, does anybody know what interest group he represents?

Copyright © 1996-2003 Evenimentul Zilei Online

Rosia Montana: Frank Timis Begins Gabriel Resources

Rosia Montana:
How It Began

This is a very informative, but concise, background history of the crisis at Rosia Montana from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
This is from Google's html version of the file: http://www-management.wharton.upenn.edu/henisz/Rosia(A)i.pdf
Professor Witold J. Henisz, The Wharton School, Sinziana Dorobantu, and Tim Gray prepared this case as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. Statements and opinions expressed in this case are those of the authors. They do not express the opinions of the Wharton School, University ofPennsylvania.

Rosia Montana: Political and Social Risk Management in the Land of Dracula

Although gold deposits are widespread, in one form or another, no one area has yielded its gold easily. Finding and producing gold demands immense effort relative to the amount of glittering yellow metal that makes its appearance at the end of the process.
—Peter Bernstein, author of “The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession”
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Throughout history, those who came here to conquer our territories were always interested only in our gold. Romanians feel a need to protect this resource.
—Sulfina Barbu, former Romanian minister of the environment
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Even my best friends, even my best friends they don’t know
That my job is turning lead into gold
When you hear that engine, when you hear that engine drone
I’m on the road again and I’m searching for the philosopher’s stone
—Van Morrison, singer/songwriter of “Philosopher’s Stone”
.
.

INTRODUCTION The crowd of miners thronged Rosia Montana’s tiny town square. They decried the cravenness of their country’s government and the chicanery of the cabal of politicians and nongovernmental organizations that was blocking the development of one of the largest unexploited gold deposits in the world.

Several carried coffins on their shoulders. Others had nooses cinched around their throats like  neckties. A few lugged trash barrels. The coffins, set down in the center of the square, became their pulpit. Joined by the mayor and a smattering of other local officials, the miners exhorted anyone within earshot that Rosia Montana would die unless the Romanian government approved a plan by a Canadian company to create Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine in the town. The coffins and nooses, they shouted, represented their future without the mine, and the trash cans, the places where they’d be forced to scavenge for food. “We want to work in mining, not beg in the West,” a banner proclaimed.

What the miners didn’t mention that day, but everyone in the town knew, was that the proposed mine—a project of Gabriel Resources Ltd. (Gabriel Resources), a publicly traded company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange—would mean the end of Rosia Montana, a misty, rundown hamlet in Transylvania, the northwestern region of Romania. The gold that Gabriel Resources sought lay directly below the town, embedded in the rock like sugar in a cake.

To remove it, the Canadian firm, which did business locally as Rosia Montana Gold Corp., aimed to excavate much of the valley that cradled the town. It planned to blast and shovel the gold-infused rock from the earth, crush it, and then agitate the resulting gravel with a mixture of water and cyanide. The cyanide, a poison, would dissolve the gold and allow it to leach away for capture and processing. Cyanide-tainted wastewater would then flow into a large containment pond in an adjacent valley.

To unearth its golden bounty, Gabriel Resources had proposed relocating 974 households, including about 2,000 people, as well as local churches and cemeteries. A few kilometers down the road, the company would build the villagers modern houses with indoor plumbing, a rarity in a region where a paved road was a luxury. Or if the local folk preferred, the company would reimburse them for their homes, and they could spend the money however they liked. But not everyone was hungry for cash or a job at the proposed mine. Not everyone wanted to leave.

Now Gabriel Resources’ executives had to decide how to proceed. Early on, they’d assumed that their ties with the Romanian government and Rosia Montana’s poverty—more than half of the townspeople lacked jobs—would ensure approval of the mine. The intensity of the local resistance had surprised them. Not only had a portion of the villagers refused to leave, but the holdouts had organized themselves into a nonprofit group called Alburnus Maior to protest the company’s plans.

The publicity, which had begun to echo in Romania’s faraway capital of Bucharest, had complicated an already knotty undertaking. In laying their plans about how to move ahead, Gabriel Resources’ managers found themselves having to consider not just the costs and potential returns of the bet that they were making on the mine but also Romania’s historical, cultural, and political contexts. And everything in the country was proving more complicated than it seemed on the surface. Romanian realities, like the gold they sought, lay hidden and deep.

The miners, in the eyes of some Romanians, weren’t just unemployed tradesmen, desperate for work. They were thugs. In 1990, early in the country’s post-communist political transition, thousands of miners, clutching truncheons and clubs, had descended on Bucharest. There, they’d set upon protesters who were calling for a speedier transition to democracy. A decade later, Romanians still couldn’t agree on who had summoned them.

“The miners, they’re not exactly loved,” said one Gabriel Resources executive, “And we’re not very adored as a result. Do we have any influence over them? We don’t call them to action. They organize themselves. They wouldn’t listen to us if we tried. We just have a common goal.” 1

RED MOUNTAIN, RED WATERS When Gabriel Resources came to Rosia Montana in the late 1990s, its founders could not have imagined the resistance that their firm would face. After all, the town had been home to goldmining for two millennia. Roman gold miners had founded it in 106 A.D. They called their settlement Alburnus Maior and dug a serpentine complex of tunnels beneath the valley. Miles of their passageways remained, and archeologists had found a smattering of artifacts there including wax tablets, which recorded Roman laws. More extensive ruins, even greater in grandeur, had been destroyed in the 1970s to make way for communist-era mining.

The Romans had stayed for only about a century, but the industry that they’d started never left. Later came German gold diggers, and eventually, communism and the lumbering state-run mine. Even the name Rosia Montana, which means alpine red in English, seemed to trace its origin to the ore. Streams in the region ran red on account of the byproducts of mining that leached into them.

Gold gave Rosia Montana life, but it also brought premature death. Toxins in the water and ground, paired with poverty, left the town with a lower than average life expectancy, even by Romanian standards. Mining was tough, dangerous work, and miners around the world died young. Rosia Montana’s miners died younger than most—in their late forties—with some succumbing to silicosis, a lung disease caused by mine dust.

Even in modern times, mining in Rosia Montana was cruder than in many places. During communist Nicolae Ceausescu’s 24-year dictatorship, the local mine had fallen into a time warp. Its miners toiled with aging machinery and outdated technology. But their jobs were secure and wages high because the regime depended on their work. Theirs was one of the few Romanian industries that reliably produced something, besides arms, that foreigners wanted to buy.

“The state-owned mining companies directed their efforts primarily to increasing production, irrespective of costs and environmental consequences,” said a 1999 World Bank report on restructuring Romanian mining. “This resulted in a much larger mining sector than was economically justified, and extensive budgetary support was required. In 1989, when output reached its peak, there were 278 mines in operation. At that time, the mining sector provided a livelihood for almost 10 percent of the population.” 2

Since the transition to democracy, employment in mining had declined steadily. In the late 1980s, the country had employed about 350,000 miners. A decade later, that number had fallen by half. By 2005, after the closure of dozens of unprofitable mines to meet requirements for European Union (E.U.) membership, the tally had dropped to 50,000, and the closings were slated to continue. 3 Little mining towns like Rosia Montana, located at the dead-end of a rough mountain road, were slowly suffocating.

In much of Romania, manufacturing had replaced mining as the bulwark of the economy. Relatively low wages gave the country’s plants a comparative advantage, as did their proximityto the markets of Western Europe. Even so, mining endured. Big machines and thick-armed men still scraped minerals from the earth including coal, uranium, silver, copper, and borax. But gold managed to outshine them all, as the glittering metal had long done elsewhere. The deposits that lay below Rosia Montana were the largest remaining in Europe.

BROWN BEARS AND A BALKY ECONOMY Back in the communist era, Ceausescu had run the Romanian economy, as he’d run everything, as a personal fiefdom. 4 He had, for example, protected Europe’s largest remaining population of brown bears outside of Russia so that only he and his cronies could hunt them. He’d also pursued many ill-conceived economic schemes. In 1988, he announced plans to forcibly move people from about 8,000 rural villages into cities. He intended to put them to work in factories and raze their homes to make room for more cropland, though he didn’t carry out much of the plan before his ouster the following year. He also outlawed foreign debt and channeled an unsustainable share of his country’s production into industrial exports to generate foreign currency to pay off prior loans. He skimped on investment in agriculture, gutting a once-robust farming sector. He thus hobbled the country economically, leaving its people poor and its industries inefficient. According to the World Bank, the crippled economy was limping toward collapse when a firing squad executed the dictator and his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day in 1989.

Once Romanians had established a semblance of a free market, they struggled to slough off Ceausescu’s legacy. By just about every economic indicator, their country lagged the rest ofEurope. By 2005, about 14 percent of the people lived in poverty, with penury concentrated in the countryside. 5

As a way to accelerate economic growth and raise living standards, post-Ceausescu governments tried to encourage foreign direct investment, particularly in the mining sector. Officials imposed few restrictions on where and how foreigners could invest and gave foreign firms great latitude to operate within the country. Outside money gushed in starting, in the late 1990s. From 1995 through 2000, about $650 million a year in foreign direct investment arrived. In the new millennium, inflows shot up, reaching $2.2 billion in 2003, more than $6 billion in both 2004 and 2005, and then nearly doubling to $11.4 billion in 2006. Even so, Romania lagged its neighbor, Hungary, for most of that time. From 2003 through 2006, Hungary saw average inflows of $5.3billion a year. 6

Economic inefficiency was just one way in which the dead dictator haunted his countrymen. Ceausescu’s secret police force, the Securitate, and its large network of confidential informants—it had even recruited children—had left a nationwide legacy of distrust, which hampered public discourse. “During the Communist period, hundreds of thousands ofRomanians died in prison or labor camps,” the Financial Times reported. “By 1989, whenCeausescu was executed, most citizens trusted only close family members.” 7

Ceausescu’s demise, despite its dramatic finality, didn’t drive out his former allies and party functionaries. Ex-communists continued to play a large role in the country’s politics. The first president, Ion Iliescu, had served as a party official, as had many members of his coalition, the National Salvation Front. Some Romanians even speculated that Ceausescu’s overthrow amounted to little more than a coup d’etat, disguised as the sort of democratic reform that was then sweeping through the former Eastern Bloc.

Not everyone approved of the prevalence and rising power of Ceausescu’s former associates or of their initial reluctance to embrace reform. In the spring of 1990, pro-democracy protests erupted in Bucharest, with hundreds of people, mainly students, occupying University Square. Soon, thousands of miners from the Jiu Valley rumbled into the city. They bullied and beat protestors and bystanders and vandalized the homes of Iliescu’s opponents. They ransacked the offices of two opposition political parties and broke into university buildings, burning books and destroying classrooms and equipment. Six pro-democracy protestors died and hundreds of people ended up in Bucharest hospitals. In a speech, Iliescu later thanked the miners for quelling the protests, calling them a “strong force with much civic discipline, people you can trust in good times and bad.” 8 That led many Romanians to believe that he’d summoned them—a charge that he denied repeatedly. At the time, a top presidential adviser insisted that the workingmen had arrived unbidden. But, as The New York Times noted, “An essential question—one that [the adviser] said he could not answer—was how miners from the distant Jiu Valley gained precise information not only on the location of the opposition party headquarters, but of the private homes of its leaders, newspaper offices, and even the homes of gypsies.” 9

The following year, the miners showed that their fury trumped their allegiance to Iliescu. Again, a horde of them descended on Bucharest. This time, they were protesting proposed free-market reforms, including the beginnings of mine closures and layoffs, and calling for Iliescu’s ouster. Three people died in the clashes with police. Dozens were injured. Reform proposals notwithstanding, Iliescu’s government made little progress on weaning mines from public support or reducing employment in the bloated sector.

In 1996, Romanians turned Iliescu out of office, partly out of frustration with continued accusations of corruption against members of his government. That made room for a new president, Emil Constantinescu, a former university rector and low-level communist turned reformer. The following year, the government announced a plan to restructure the mining sector and encourage foreign investment in it. It began eliminating jobs and compensating the newly unemployed miners.

By 2000, economic reform continued to only creep along, and voters grew weary of Constantinescu and his party, the Democratic Convention of Romania. The election that year ushered in a return to power for Iliescu and a new prime minister named Adrian Nastase, a former professor of international law. According to the U.S. State Department, the Iliescu-Nastase government guided Romania toward greater economic stability, but corruption continued to stymie enduring reform. The restructuring of the mining sector stumbled along, with the government committed to it in theory but making little practical progress.

During this period, Transparency International, a nonprofit that lobbied worldwide for better governance, ranked Romania as among the European countries perceived as most corrupt by international businesspeople. The group’s 1998 survey, for example, put the country in 61 st place, well behind neighboring Hungary in 33 rd place and the nearby Czech Republic in 37 th place but just ahead of Bulgaria in 66 th place. 10 Five years later, Transparency International’ssurvey pushed Romania back to 83 rd place, while Hungary moved to 40 th place, and the Czech Republic and Bulgaria tied, with Brazil, for 54 th . 11

CANADIAN COMPANY, ROMANIAN ROOTS Gabriel Resources had arrived in Rosia Montana less than a decade after Ceausescu’s fall and even fewer years since the miners had stormed the capital. Though listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the company had been started by a Romanian national named Frank Timis. Timis had spent much of his adulthood in Australia, where he’d been convicted of possessing heroin and marijuana with intent to distribute. When he wasn’t tangling with the law, he ran a trucking company that ended up bankrupt. He’d also dabbled in gold mining.

Undeterred by his setbacks, Timis returned to his home country in the mid-1990s, with a proposal for a mine at Rosia Montana that would replace the old state-run operation. In 1998, the government of Prime Minister Radu Vasile awarded a contract to his company, Gabriel Resources. The government released neither the contract’s details nor its reasons for selecting Timis. Opponents of the mine subsequently claimed that he couldn’t have closed the deal without personal ties to the politicians who were then running the country, but neither media accounts nor an investigation by a later Gabriel Resources management team bore out that allegation. Given the prevalence of political corruption, some critics also suggested that Timis would’ve had to pay bribes to secure his contract, though no one proved that, either. Timis listed his company on the Vancouver Stock Exchange and, in 1997, transferred it to the Toronto Stock Exchange. 12

He began his Rosia Montana mine as a reclamation project, hoping to salvage gold in the waste that the inefficient state-run operation had left behind. After doing test drilling, he realized that tons of the precious metal remained. Indeed, estimates of the mine’s potential kept rising during the study phase. For several years, he quietly laid his plans until all the pieces were in place. By then, Romania-based Rosia Montana Gold Corp. had been formed, with Gabriel Resources owning 80 percent. Minvest S.A. Deva, the Romanian state mining company, owned 19.3 percent, and minority investors held the rest. The company didn’t identify the minority investors; U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation., one of the world’s largest gold producers, later bought a minority stake.

THE MINE PROPOSAL Timis’ plans grew larger as the extent of Rosia Montana’s gold reserves became clearer. According to the company’s ultimate estimate, the area contained reserves of 10.6 million ounces of gold, which would enable it to produce 635,000 ounces of ore a year at a cost of $181per ounce in the first 5 years of mining. The cost would rise above $200 an ounce in later years. In the mid-2000s, gold was selling for more than $500 an ounce, and its price had risen for much of the decade. Economic booms in China and India, as well as concerns about fiscal stability in the United States had driven its value upwards. Investors have tended to move into gold as a safe haven in times of financial instability.

Gabriel Resources predicted that upfront costs at Rosia Montana, including administration, village relocation, and construction, would total more than $600 million. By early 2007, the company had raised a total of $220 million in equity, exceeding its initial target by $70 million. It aimed to get about 20 percent of its funding from equity and the rest from debt. “The estimated internal rate of return of the project based on $500 per ounce gold would be 18 percent and the estimated return increases to 26 percent at $600 per ounce gold,” according to a company financial filing. 13

Gabriel Resources said that the mine would last at least 16 years and employ about 600 people. A professor at the University of Alberta in Canada wrote in the Mining Environmental Management trade journal that it would indirectly create about 1,500 to 2,000 additional jobs. 14 The company predicted even more. Construction of the mine would last 2 to 3 years and would employ about 1,200 people.

Mining would proceed in two stages, with two large pits dug in the first stage and two more in the second. Before work could begin, all of the villagers had to move and their homes had to be razed. The company would exhume and rebury the dead and reconstruct churches and civic buildings in the proposed new village. The plans hewed to involuntary relocation guidelines established by the World Bank, though all of Rosia Montana’s residents would have to leave voluntarily. Romanian officials had said that they wouldn’t force them to do so.

A controversial element of the plan was the mine’s waste pond, which would hold the cyanide-tainted water behind a 185 meter high dam. Before pumping the water into the reservoir, the company would detoxify it, which would destroy much of the cyanide. According to Gabriel Resources, the discharge would then contain less cyanide than E.U. guidelines allowed at other mines in Europe. As part of its proposal, Gabriel Resources also committed to clean up the extensive ground and water pollution left behind by prior miners. In the company’s absence, the Romanian government probably could not have afforded to do that, according to a report on the mine proposal by the Council of Europe.

Other miners had employed waste reservoirs like the one proposed by Gabriel Resources, and they hadn’t always worked as promised. Besides the long-term risk of acid seepage, a reservoir could fail catastrophically. In 2000, the collapse of a dam holding back a waste pond in the Romanian town of Baia Mare wreaked havoc in Romania and downriver in neighboring Hungary. An Australian-Romanian venture, Aurul SA, had operated the mine at Baia Mare using methods similar to those proposed for Rosia Montana. After a period of heavy rain and snowmelt, its containment dam had collapsed. Millions of gallons of cyanide-tainted water had flowed first into the Tisza River on the Romanian-Hungarian border and, from there, into the Danube in Hungary. The spill killed more than 100 tons of fish and contaminated wells along both rivers. Cyanide decomposes rapidly when exposed to sun and air, but heavy metals released by the spill would remain in the rivers for years. In response, the Hungarian government sued its Romanian counterpart for more than $100 million in damages. Gabriel Resources said that its sturdier system of a main dam and a backup, coupled with the detoxification process, would make its operations safer than the ones at Baia Mare.

Early on, some politicians in Bucharest had expressed support for Gabriel Resources’ plans and tried to help them along. In 1999, the government, for example, declared Rosia Montana a disadvantaged region and made the mine eligible for 10 years’ worth of tax abatements under a program designed to encourage foreign investment. (The government provided similar tax incentives in disadvantaged communities throughout the country.) At that time, Radu Berceanu, the minister of industry, and Traian Basescu, the minister of transport, favored the redevelopment plans for the mine. Basescu, a former ship’s captain, later became the country’s president.

CLOSED DOORS Four hundred kilometers from Bucharest, on the other side of the steep slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, little was known of the elaborate plans that Gabriel Resources was laying. Timis and his staff had mostly ignored the Rosia Montana villagers, focusing their efforts on the capital, where they had maneuvered to quietly gather political support and regulatory approvals before going public. This strategy, which a future Gabriel executive called, “Decide, Announce, Defend,” or DAD for short, was typical of the way miners and oil drillers operated in the developing world.

Gabriel Resources began to relax its stealth in 2000 when company executives traveled to Rosia Montana to convene a meeting with local officials to share the plans for reviving the mine. The gathering was held in the town hall. Villagers heard about it, showed up, and asked to be admitted, but company officials turned them away. Only later did one of the attendees explain the outlines of the discussion: an outside investor who’d taken over the old state mine wanted to bulldoze their town to make way for an enlarged operation.

Initially, Rosia Montana’s mayor opposed the plan and even ran for re-election saying that he’d block it. Soon, though, his stance changed: “I am in a delicate position,” he told the AssociatedPress. “[Rosia Montana] Gold Corp. has paid their taxes and sponsored some projects.” 15 As mayor, he said that he had to represent the opinion of the majority of the community, and many of the town’s residents—unemployed miners and their kin—favored the project.

Other villagers were alarmed by Gabriel Resources’ plan and began to grumble about the mayor’s turnabout. That September, they decided to form an association to fight to protect their homes. They named their group Alburnus Maior to recall the region’s long history and archeological significance. “It is an association of property owners, not environmentalists,” said Eugen David, a tall farmer and one of the group’s leaders. “We have only one principle: each person is a free person, free to make decisions about his life and property. We need publicity, but our strongest resource is ownership of property. What is common is we are here and don’t want to leave.” 16

The proposal that Gabriel Resources’ executives had assumed would sail through the approval processes now faced a challenge. How the company responded would affect not only the speed with which it could secure the dozens of permits that it needed but also how it would be viewed in both Rosia Montana and Bucharest. The company’s plans, which touched on relocation, mining, and insider deals, managed to conjure up memories of the Ceausescu era and the tumult of the early days of the democratic transition.

“Gold for us is a curse,” said Zeno Cornea, a member of Alburnus Maior. “Gold here in Rosia Montana has caused suffering for the people since ancient times. There’s always someone coming to take it.” 17

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Did the Rosia Montana mine have sufficient political, economic, and social support? Locally? Nationally? Which sort of support was most critical to the project’s success?

2. Given the political, economic, and social environment in Romania in the mid-1990s, which elements of Gabriel Resources’ strategy made sense? Which ones could have been improved? What, if anything, did the executives neglect?

3. What might opponents have done to raise the profile of their concerns, and slow or stop the mine’s redevelopment?

References:

1 Interview with Professor Witold Henisz and Sinziana Dorobantu in Romania.

2 The World Bank, “Project Appraisal Document,” August 6, 1999, p. 2.

3 The World Bank, “Poverty and Social Impact Analysis of the Mining Sector in Romania: A Policy Note,” June 29,2005, p. 4, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPSIA/Resources/490023-1120841262639/Romania_PSIA_Mining.pdf.

4 The communist era in Romania refers to the period between 1947 and 1989 when Romania was a dictatorship in the Eastern Bloc led by the Romanian Communist Party, the sole legal party; “Communist Romania,” Wikipedia,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Romania (May 9, 2009).

5 The World Bank, loc. cit.

6 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “World Investment Report 2007, Romania Fact Sheet,”October 17, 2007.

7 Phelim McAleer, “Most Multinationals Promise to Listen to Local Concerns,” The Financial Times, March 9,2001.

8 Celestine Bohlen, “Altered States: Free Choice Revives the Best and Worst of Eastern Europe,” The New YorkTimes, June 17, 1990.

9 Celestine Bohlen, “A Backlash in Romania; In Calling Out Miners to Stifle Opposition, President Forfeits Control and Good Will,” The New York Times, June 18, 1990.

10 Transparency International, “The Corruption Perceptions Index (1998),” September 22, 1998, http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/previous_cpi__1/1998 (May 22, 2009).

11 Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2003,” October 7, 2008, http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2003 (May 22, 2009).

12 Stefan Candea, Crji.org, “Romania’s Gold, in an Adventurer’s Hands,” May 22, 2002,http://www.crji.org/news.php?id=29&l=2.

13 Gabriel Resources Ltd., “2006 Annual Report”, p. 22.

14 Jeremy Richard, “Rosia Montana Gold Controversy,” Mining Environmental Management, January 2005, pp. 5-13.

15 Alison Mutler, Associated Press, “Transylvanian Town Atop Gold Mine,” June 24, 2001.

16 Henisz and Dorobantu, loc. cit.

17 Ibid.