Dominican Republic to inspect mine shipments

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By EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ, Associated Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — A Canadian joint venture operating one of the world's largest gold mines and the government of the Dominican Republic reached an agreement Friday to inspect the company's exports, ending a standoff that halted a shipment valued at nearly $12 million.

The agreement between Barrick Pueblo Viejo and Dominican customs officials comes as the government tries to pressure the joint venture to renegotiate its royalty agreement and turn over more of its profits.

Customs agents detained the shipment of 6,000 ounces of gold and 30,000 ounces of silver on Wednesday at an airport in Santo Domingo. Fernandez said the company would not allow the cargo to be inspected, telling agents that the seals could not be broken until the shipment reached its destination. He also said some of the information on their documents appeared to be incorrect.

Customs Director Fernando Fernandez announced after meeting with Barrick officials that an agreement had been reached and the shipment could be inspected as early as Monday.

Barrick Pueblo Viejo's director of government relations, Mexico Angeles, said the government was seeking additional information about the shipments and the company would provide it. "Everything was straightened out," he said.

In addition to information on this shipment, Fernandez said he had wanted more details about the approximately 14 previous ones that the company made between November and March.

The mine venture is 60 percent owned by the Barrick Gold Corp. of Toronto and 40 percent by Goldcorp Inc. of Vancouver. The companies last year reopened the Pueblo Viejo after investing nearly $4 billion, the largest direct foreign investment ever in the Dominican Republic.

In recent months, Dominican lawmakers and President Danilo Medina have called on the company to renegotiate the royalty contract signed in 2009. The company has said it is a legally binding contract but it is willing to discuss measures to help the Dominican Republic with its budget deficit.

Under the contract, Barrick Pueblo Viejo has estimated it will pay about $7 billion over the estimated 25-year life of the mine to the government. In addition, it has spent more than $4 million to clean up contamination left behind by the previous operators of the mine.

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