Axiom Wins Right To Prospect For Nickel In Solomon Islands

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Company fends off suit brought by Sumitomo over Isabel deposits

By Ofani Eremae

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Sept. 25, 2014) – The High Court has rejected a bid Japanese mining giant Sumitomo Ltd brought against Australian firm Axiom Ltd, the national government, and some Isabel landowners.

This was over nickel prospecting rights in Isabel Province.

Sumitomo filed the case after the then Minister of Mines and Energy cancelled its preliminary Letter of Intent for nickel prospecting in Isabel Province in 2010 and instead awarded it to Axiom.

It argued the processes Axiom took to obtain its licence and register in Solomon Islands was improper, and wanted the court to review it.

But in his ruling late on Wednesday, Commissioner John Brown said the proceedings Sumitomo brought "have been shown to be an abuse of the court’s process".

"Sumitomo does not come with a clean hand to justify exercise of the court’s discretion in its favour," Commission Brown said.

"Its claim to judicial review is therefore refused."

Commissioner Brown also ruled that Axiom’s lease over the Kolosori land, site of the Isabel nickel prospect, and its prospecting licence over the same area, are valid.

AxiomKB, Axiom’s joint venture company with the landowners, was awarded a Prospecting Licence for the tenement in 2011, and had started exploration activities when they were stopped by an injunction brought on by Sumitomo.

Axiom Mining chief executive officer Ryan Mount yesterday welcomed the ruling.

"The judgement vindicates Axiom’s assertions that we have always acted correctly and with integrity," Mr Mount said in a statement.

Chair of the Kolosori Trustees Elliot Cortez said: "We are very pleased that we have been able to successfully defend our rights.

"It has been a long, difficult journey for us."

Sumitomo’s office in Honiara last night said they’ll issue a statement on the ruling, today.

[PIR editor’s note: Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. reported that ‘Sumitomo will appeal the High Court’s recent rejection of its claims to nickel prospecting rights in Isabel Province. ... Today, Sumitomo says it is conducting a detailed analysis of the decision with a view to commencing an appeal soon.’]

The hearing, which started earlier this year, was scheduled to last eight weeks.

But it went on for almost a year.

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