Tensions mount between Eldorado Gold and Greek government

Greek Energy Minister Panos Skourletis says Eldorado Gold Corp. chief executive Paul Wright shorted the shares of his own company, comments the miner dismissed as “utter nonsense,” as tensions mount between the Canadian company and the government in Athens.

Eldorado shares fell 19 per cent to $3.53 on Jan. 12 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the biggest one-day decline since December 2008, after Mr. Wright announced at a press conference in Athens that the company was suspending its investment plans for its Greek mines, blaming the attitude of the government.

“[Mr.] Wright is a CEO, he’s smart and he’s experienced; he gave a press conference knowing that the share price of the company would tumble,” Mr. Skourletis said when asked for an update on the country’s talks with Eldorado Gold in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday. “Why did he do that? In my opinion, and I told him when he was here, he played games with the share price. ‘You have told your friends that you are going to say these things at the press conference so that they could sell beforehand and then buy at lower prices.’”

The minister’s comments are the latest in a battle of words between the two sides that have failed to reach agreement over Eldorado’s plans to develop its mines in Greece. The country’s ruling Syriza party has said the company’s activities are polluting the environment. Mr. Skourletis last summer revoked a development permit for one of Eldorado’s mining sites. The decision was annulled by Greece’s top administrative court.

“I am absolutely certain that he shorts the company’s shares,” he said about Mr. Wright. “His compensation is tied, among other things, to the company’s share price, and he plays games with it.”

The minister provided no trading details to back his claim.

Mr. Skourletis’s allegations are “without basis and offensive,” Eduardo Moura, Eldorado vice-president and general manager for Greece, said in an e-mail, when asked to respond to the comment. The company’s spokeswoman in Vancouver, Krista Muhr, replying on behalf of the CEO, said the allegations are “utter nonsense.”

Elorado is not a heavily shorted stock, relative to other gold miners. In the week before Mr. Wright’s January comments in Athens, short positions in Eldorado rose to 1.9 per cent of the company’s free float, according to Markit data. That was slightly up from the 1.7-per-cent short interest on Dec. 31, which was a 52-week low.

By comparison, short interest in Barrick Gold Corp. was at 2.2 per cent of free float at the time, while Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. was at 5.3 per cent and Iamgold Corp. at 7.6 per cent. Newmont Mining Corp. was at 0.5 per cent. (A short sale occurs when the seller borrows stock from a brokerage, and sells it, expecting the price to fall. If it does, the seller will buy stock at the lower price to replace the stock that was borrowed.)

Mr. Wright has recently been buying Eldorado shares. He added 18,569 shares at $3.83 a piece on Feb. 8, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That brings his total to 1.17 million shares.

Eldorado closed at $4.01 a share on Tuesday on the TSX, for a market value of $2.87-billion.

Its shares have tumbled 39 per cent in the past year, the most among 19 competing miners tracked by Bloomberg, as it has gone back and forth with the government to develop its mines in Greece. Last month, the company said that a preliminary review indicates an after-tax impairment expense of $1.2-billion to $1.6-billion “primarily related to its Greek assets.”

“Eldorado’s commitment to Greece has resulted in over $700-million of investment into the country since 2012,” Mr. Moura, its vice-president, said. “The failure of the ministry on numerous fronts has forced the company to revise our investment plans; however, we remain committed to our Greek projects and the creation of jobs and long term development for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

According to Mr. Skourletis, one of the closest allies of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the company “blackmails” the government and the environmental watchdog in Greece to approve permits for further development of the mines “with eyes closed,” or risk a suspension of the investment and laying off of hundreds of miners. “They are colonialists, not investors,” Mr. Skourletis said.

The company denies violating environmental legislation, citing rulings by Greece’s top administrative court. “The Council of State – the Supreme Court of Greece on environmental and administrative matters – has repeatedly confirmed the integrity of our permits, including five rulings since 2014 declaring null and void various decisions of the Ministry of Energy and Environment,” Mr. Moura said.

While Mr. Skourletis acknowledged the court’s decision, he said that “the Council of State has ruled on specific aspects of the case, it hasn’t ruled on whether it’s a good or bad investment.”

Eldorado submitted licensing applications to further develop its mines in Northern Greece in December, the minister said. Authorities are required by law to respond within three months, and they will do so by the end of March, the minister said. If the miner complies with its environmental and planning commitments, then the government won’t stop the project which was licensed by the previous government, as there’s “continuity in state decisions,” Mr. Skourletis said.

He added, however, that the company probably wants to halt its investment to Greece anyway.

“Eldorado may want to stop the investment in Greece, and they just want to put the blame on the Greek government,” he said.

Consequently, it was announced that Mr Paul Wright is to file a defamation suit against Mr Panos Skourletis.

In a statement released last Thursday, Hellas Gold noted that any compensation arising from the case would go to Greek charities.

source: theglobeandmail.com,   Nikos Chrysoloras and Paul Tugwell, Bloomberg News, ekathimerini.com

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Greece says Eldorado must resume mining operations before talks on investment can continue

Greece has asked Canadian miner Eldorado Gold Corp to reverse its decision to halt much of its Greek mining operations and safeguard jobs as a condition for the two parties to continue talks on the country’s biggest foreign investment.

The Vancouver-based miner has been in a dispute with the Greek government after Energy Minister Panos Skourletis in August revoked the company’s permit to further develop its Skouries mine in a forested area of northern Greece on environmental concerns.

The case is widely seen as a test of the leftist government’s approach to foreign investment.

On Monday Eldorado said it would suspend construction at the Skouries project, putting more than 600 jobs at risk. It also warned it would do the same at its Olympias mine, risking another 500 jobs in northern Greece, if it didn’t secure necessary permits by the end of March.

Skourletis met Eldorado Chief Executive Officer Paul Wright on Wednesday.

“I told him that a condition for any talks from now own is the company taking back its decision,” the minister said after the meeting.

“We can’t discuss while being blackmailed,” he said.

Eldorado went to Greece’s top administrative court to annul the government’s decision to revoke its mining permit and a majority of judges in the court ruled in its favor in November, but the official decision is still pending.

The government has also delayed several other licenses Eldorado needs to develop its projects on the Halkidiki peninsula.

Greece needs investment to spur its economy but the leftist government has shown a reticence to allow foreign ownership of big projects.

Eldorado has created around 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in Greece, which suffers from a jobless rate of 25 percent, the highest in the euro zone.

The Canadian company has spent more than $700 million since 2012 when it took over the project on the Halkidiki peninsula and planned to invest another $1 billion in its quest for gold, copper and zinc at the Olympias and Skouries sites.

[Reuters]

Source:ekathimerini.com, ANGELIKI KOUTANTOU, 14.01.2016

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Eldorado Gold to stop investments in Greece

Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold says it is suspending work at a site in northern Greece and laying off 600 workers following protests by local residents and a spat with the country’s left wing government.

The Vancouver, Canada-based company said Tuesday that it was suspending operations at a gold mine at Skouries, one of four major Greek sites where the company is involved.

Eldorado Gold CEO Paul Wright said 500 more jobs were also likely to be cut later in the year.

Wright accused the government of using the mining project as a “political toy” but insisted the company had no plans to pull out of Greece.

Elected a year ago, the leftwing government has expressed support for resident protest groups near Skouries who oppose the project on environmental grounds.

Wright said the company might suspend works in the Olympias site in Chalkidiki if the license is not approved within three months. Eldorado Gold has also frozen the projects in Perama Hill and Sapes in Thrace. They are also considering freezing the expansion of the mine at Stratoni.

The company CEO gave a press conference where he said that, “Since 2012 we created 2,000 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs and invested more than 700 million euros for development projects in Skouries and Olympias. We have paid over 700 million euros in taxes for Skouries and Olympias.”

“We invest in many countries but in Greece, our investment became politicized, it turned into a political game,” Wright said. “Greek finance ministers invite foreign investors to come to Greece. We are an example for foreign investors. We need to be partners with the government and have good cooperation to achieve the investment for our own benefit and for the economy.” He also added that the company has asked to meet with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras but he has not yet responded.

Wright gave detailed figures of what the project in Chalkidiki would mean to the Greek economy:

1 billion euros in social security contributions
1.5 billion euros in salaries
100 million euros in associations and local organizations
150 million euros in environmental improvements
75 million in infrastructure projects in the region
2.5 billion euros in payments to local suppliers of goods and services

This is the first and perhaps the largest private investment of foreign capital in our country, totaling 1.2 billion euros, say financial analysts.

“We operate in good faith and Hellas Gold has complied with all contractual obligations, however, due to unfavorable conditions it is prudent to reduce capital investment in Greece at the time,” said a company statement addressed to the Athens Stock Exchange.

The Canadian company attributes the decision to stop the investment to the policies of the Ministry of Environment and Energy. Wright described the attitude of the Greek government as “openly confrontational” and argues that its subsidiary Hellas Gold is “unable at this stage to complete its investment plans in Chalkidiki because of acts and omissions of the ministry and other public services, relating to the timely issuance of routine licenses and permits which is a legal and contractual obligation of the Greek government.”

Wright clarified that the investment has great prospects and Eldorado Gold is willing to continue the investment. However, he said, the Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy creates significant risks and obstacles that leave no other choice but to reduce activities and staff.

“We hope to resume our activities and investment plans in Greece if we get the necessary permits on time and there is a real working relationship in the context of contractual obligations between Hellas Gold and the Greek government,” he noted. “We would like to create more jobs but the policy of the environment ministry made that impossible.”

In Skouries 600 workers will lose their jobs. This will be done gradually, as the company will maintain the workers who are essential for the basic functions for a period of 3-4 months, which has set a timeframe for the company to get license approval from the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

In Olympias 500 workers are at risk of losing their jobs. In this case the project continues and is awaiting approvals that will determine whether or not the investment will continue.

Wright will meet with New Democracy president Kyriakos Mitsotakis, PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata, Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis, and Centrists Union president Vassilis Leventis to discuss the situation.

The government does not succumb to blackmail, says Environment Min Skourletis
The government does not succumb to blackmail, Environment and Energy Minister Panos Skourletis on Tuesday said in statements to Praktorio 104.9 FM following “Eldorado Gold” announcement that it partly suspends its construction works at Skouries.

Skourletis expressed his disappointment over the fact that CEO of the Canadian company, Paul Wright, decided to cancel their scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

Skourletis sternly criticized those who accuse the government that 2,000 people will lose their jobs after the retirement of Eldorado from Northern Halkidiki and cleared out that the decision will affect around 830 workers.

source: Greekreporter.com, Philip Chrysopoulos – Jan 12, 2016

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