Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has denied making a deal with Rio Tinto to take up the Bougainville Copper Limited shares offloaded by the international resource giant recently, the Post-Courier reports.
Correspondence seen by Post-Courier from a source close to the Prime Minister states that O’Neill had not met Rio Tinto officials in Port Moresby prior to the share divestment, and there had been no decision by the National Executive Council on the shares.
This comes after Bougainville President John Momis last week slammed what he called “a shady deal between the national government and Rio Tinto”.
Rio Tinto’s decision to transfer the BCL shares would make Papua New Guinea an equal shareholder with the Autonomous Bougainville Government in the company which operated the ill-fated Panguna copper mine.
Last week, Momis said the national government was “deeply involved” in the transfer because:
“Rio officials first advised me of the Rio share decision around 9pm on the night of Wednesday, June, 29.
“But a subsidiary of the National Government, Petromin, accepted the Rio Tinto shares the very next day. I can see no way Petromin could have been ready to jump on June 30 if PNG was not fully involved in Rio’s decision on its BCL shares.
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“Yet when I met the Prime Minister to discuss the share issue two days later on Saturday June 30, he said he needed to see the details of the Rio decision.”
The Prime Minister’s assurances that he had not been part of a backdoor deal are backed up by the correspondence sighted by the Post-Courier which went on to state that the NEC would be meeting to discuss their options on this matter.
The communication said the Prime Minister was not aware of any movements of the Petromin board relating to the shares and if there were any, they would be reviewed by cabinet.
Bougainville leaders have been advised to await the return of the Prime Minister next week to negotiate what is hoped will be an amicable outcome.