Barrick Could ‘Force’ Resolution to Acacia’s Troubles, CEO Says

(Bloomberg) -- Barrick Gold Corp.’s Mark Bristow said the company may have to “force” an end to stalled talks with Tanzania over the fate of its subsidiary Acacia Mining Plc -- but not yet. Shares of the unit pared gains.

Acacia has been at odds with Tanzania’s government since July 2017, when the state handed the London-listed gold producer a $190 billion tax bill, saying it falsely declared bullion exports. Bristow became Barrick chief executive officer in January, and the following month the Toronto-based miner said it had reached a settlement proposal with the government. Yet so far, no final deal with the government has been signed.

“We would definitely at a point intervene and force the process, but right now it’s not a constructive way to try to solve this problem,” Bristow said in an interview in Toronto Wednesday.

Acacia said on Thursday that it was seeking clarification from Barrick on Bristow’s comments that weren’t consistent with its own understanding. The company said it has not yet received the proposed settlement.

‘Economic Benefits’

Bristow took the helm at Barrick after the miner merged with his company Randgold Resources Ltd. at the start of this year, rekindling hope of a resolution. The South African has a long history of successfully operating in Africa, but so far has left negotiations in the hands of his long-time lieutenant Willem Jacobs.

Barrick, which owns almost two-thirds of Acacia, has previously said that the plan includes the gold producer paying $300 million to resolve outstanding tax claims. It also involves a 50-50 sharing of the “economic benefits” of Acacia’s operations with the state.

Acacia has been frozen out of the talks, but its board will have to approve any deal. Once that’s done there’s uncertainty over the future of the miner that only operates in Tanzania. Barrick would favor taking back full control of the unit, people familiar with situation said last year.

‘A Tragedy’

“It’s a tragedy; what we’re dealing with is a complete breakdown of relationships,” Bristow said Wednesday, noting that the Tanzanian government refuses to deal with Acacia. Bristow declined to provide more details on what an intervention would look like.

“There’s a way where we could get involved in wrapping up the business going forward and then deal with the assets ourselves,” Bristow said. “Or there’s a way where we could cooperate with the Acacia board and we could look at strategic options and realize the assets in a different way. Those are the options that we have.”

Later on Wednesday Bristow, who is known for speaking plainly, revisited his frustration during the first-quarter earnings call.

“At this stage, almost any solution is better than none,” he told analysts, noting that the protracted dispute “has already destroyed a great deal of value.”

The two companies disagree over whether Barrick has the right to vote on a deal. And while all options are on the table -- including buying out Acacia’s minority shareholders -- Barrick is not prepared to overpay for the assets which require “a lot of work,” Bristow said.

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