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‘Convicted fraudster’ pushing venture

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Aug. 22, 2008) – Canadian merchant bankers Endeavour Mining Capital are offering the Cook Islands government $10 million for a ‘retention licence’ for manganese nodule mining.

In a letter to prime minister Jim Marurai dated 30 July, Endeavour said that as soon as a mining act is passed, they are willing to pay this amount for a licence.

Endeavour has also offered to spend $10 million on a feasibility study on mining of the country’s nodule resource.

Deputy prime minister Sir Terepai Maoate this week issued some harsh allegations against local businessman Richard Barton saying that a ‘convicted fraudster’ has been lobbying some ministers to agree to the proposal by Endeavour which includes exclusive rights over 33 percent of the country’s EEZ in exchange for the feasibility study.

He says Barton went to the extent of drafting letters on behalf of government accepting the Endeavour offer and presenting them to cabinet ministers to sign.

Barton has declined to comment on the issue or the allegations made by the DPM.

The letter sent on 30 July 2008 by Endeavour financial advisor Gordon Keep urged government to act quickly to take up their offer.

Cabinet minister and minister of marine resources Wilkie Rasmussen said cabinet has responded to the letter saying they would have to wait until legislation was in place.

On Barton’s involvement, as a representative of Endeavour, Rasmussen said he thought it was premature for the DPM to make judgments about his activities.

Keep said the feasibility study would be done at no expense to the Cooks and if it proved nodule harvesting to be viable, then Endeavour would spend another $30-$40 million to plan how to carry this out.

"Endeavour estimates that full production will yield economic benefits of approximately $300 million in royalties, taxes, wages and support services and to do so within three years of our receiving a licence to harvest a portion of your sea bed," wrote Keep.

Keep said he was writing because after he and two other Endeavour representatives visited last November with the initial proposal, they had not had a clear response to their proposal.

Acting manganese resource advisory committee chair Mike Mitchell had responded in January to their earlier enquiry saying until such time as terms of reference and any necessary legislation was in place, it would be unwise for the country to proceed with any particular expression of interest.

Sir Terepai’s statement said it will be stressed to cabinet to take on the advice given by International Finance Corporation and more recently by the Commonwealth Secretariat, not to entertain any discussions or proposals regarding the seabed resource until such time as the policy and legal framework are completed and in place.

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