Bougainville Copper

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Bougainville Copper Limited is an Australian copper, gold, and silver mining company that operated the Panguna open cut mine on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 1971 to 1989. Mining operations were officially halted on 15 May 1989, when employees were attacked during an uprising.[1] Up until then, it was one of the world's largest open-pit mines. The Panguna mine dominated the economy of the island during the 1970s and 1980s. It also was highly significant to the overall PNG economy: In the 1970s and the 1980s the company's tax and dividend payments added up to approx. 44% of PNG's national budget.

Shareholder structure

Major shareholders are Rio Tinto (53.6%), Papua New Guinea (19.1%) and the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC) with approx. 4%. The remaining freefloat of 23% is held by private investors. The Company has no access to the mine since the conflict began in 1989. The mine is controlled today by the Me'ekamui Tribal Government of Unity ("MGU"), led by the brother-in-law of the late revolutionary leader, Francis Ona, and President Phillip Miriori.[2]


The mine at Panguna was opened by CRA Ltd. under armed Australian police protection. CRA Ltd is an Australian company which was owned by the Australian mining company Rio Tinto Zinc.[citation needed]

The mine was vitally important to the economy of Papua New Guinea, but the people of Bougainville were seeing little benefit from it. The PNG national government received a 20% share of profit from the mine of which the Bougainvilleans received 0.5% - 1.25% share of the total profit.[3]

The first Bougainville independence movement began to arise in the late 1960s, as people began to air their grievances against the Australian colonial government over the handling of the Panguna mine. Australian External Territories Minister Charles Barnes was accused of telling the Bougainvillean people they would "get nothing". The issue of compensation went to the High Court of Australia, where it was found that the compensation was inadequate under ordinary federal Australian law, but that as an external territory, Papua New Guinea was not guaranteed the same standards that applied to mainland Australia.[4]

In 2010, employing interviews with BCL executives and internal company documents, University of Ulster academic Dr Kristian Lasslet published findings linking the company to war crimes.[5] This research suggests that BCL placed significant pressure on the PNG government to assert its authority on Bougainville, following acts of industrial sabotage, and then aided the security forces providing them with trucks, fuel, accommodation, communications equipment, storage space, messing facilities and office resources, even after their human rights abuses became apparent. Although these allegations have been denied by BCL's current Chairman, Dr Lasslett insists on their veracity citing numerous recorded interviews with company executives and a large cache of BCL records, all of which evidence his findings.[6]

In his first statement on Radio Australia Pacific Beat on 8 June 2010 the newly elected President of Bougainville, John Momis, declared that the Panguna mine has to be reopened to assure economic growth of Bougainville in the future.

The world's then-largest open pit copper gold mine generating over 40% of PNG's revenue has remained closed since 1989 as a result of the "Conflict" between the forces led by Francis Ona, Supreme Commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army ("BRA:) and the Papuan New Guinea Defence Force.[citation needed]

As a result of substantial lobbying by MGU the ABG stripped BCL of its mining rights in 2014 [7]

US lawsuit

Citizens of Bougainville have filed a class action lawsuit in the United States against British-Australian company, Rio Tinto arising from the environmental damage caused by the mine and war crimes occurring during the civil war years. In August 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected Rio Tinto's effort to dismiss the claim. See Sarei v Rio Tinto, 456 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir. 2006).


  1. "About the Company". Retrieved 25 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. [1] Ewins, Rory, The Bougainville Conflict, [2] accessed 24 June 2009
  4. [3] (Benggong v Bougainville Copper Pty Ltd [1971] HCA 31; (1971) 124 CLR 47)
  5. [4] [5] Lasslett, K (2010) 'Saving Hearts and Mines'
  6. [6] Regan, A & Lasslett, K (2013)'"Not Credible" - Ausaid mining adviser defends Rio Tinto against war crime allegations'

External links

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