MAC: Mines and Communities

Coalition ask Police to investigate Blackfire Exploration in Mexico

Published by MAC on 2010-03-18
Source: The Star, joint press release (2010-03-10)

A Canadian non-governmental delegation will visit Chiapas to review situation

Mining watchdogs want probe

Critics plan to ask for RCMP investigation of Calgary company's operations in Mexico

Brett Popplewell Staff Reporter, The Star

10 March 2010

OTTAWA-Canadian mining watchdog groups want the RCMP to investigate Blackfire Exploration Ltd., the Calgary mining company with operations in Mexico.

Blackfire's subsidiary has been caught up in controversy since last fall when news broke that one of the company's most vocal opponents, Mexican activist Mariano Abarca Roblero, was killed. The company denies any involvement in the murder.

The United Steelworkers and three Canadian watchdog groups (Common Frontiers-Canada, the Council of Canadians and Mining Watch Canada) planned to file an official complaint Wednesday with the RCMP under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act over allegations that Blackfire was paying the mayor of a small Mexican town in return for the mayor's favour.

"We are ready to go with this tomorrow," Jamie Kneen of Mining Watch Canada said in an email Tuesday.

Brent Willis, president of the embattled company, has told the Toronto Star that Blackfire, which has 87 staff (82 of whom are Mexican), never knowingly gave funds to any public officials.

But allegations put forward in a Mexican court by the company's Mexican director general tell of a financial arrangement between the company and the mayor of Chicomuselo, a small town near the company's barite mine in Chiapas state.

"We have been extorted by the mayor of Chicomuselo ever since we began operations; he has been asking for 10,000 pesos a month so that, according to him, the locals would not rise up in arms," reads the court document, written in Spanish and filed with the congress of Chiapas in June.

"He has asked us several times for airline tickets to Mexico City, for him, for his wife and children, and for some of his colleagues, requests that we have agreed to," the document continues.

In earlier comments to the Star, Willis was adamant that the payments, which stopped around the same time that Abarca and other locals began barricading the roadways into the mine, did not violate the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

Willis could not be reached for comment Tuesday but the firm issued a statement saying: "Blackfire Exploration Ltd. addressed issues with the Mexican authorities regarding the inappropriate use of funds for the Chicomuselo fair by the town's mayor in summer 2009. The issue is now in the hands of the Mexican authorities."

The company hasn't seen the complaint filed by the coalition of non-governmental organizations or been approached by the RCMP and for these reasons is unable to provide any further comment, Blackfire added.

The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, which is enforced by the RCMP, states: "Every person commits an offence who, in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business, directly or indirectly gives, offers or agrees to give or offer a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind to a foreign public official or to any person for the benefit of a foreign public official."

Anyone found guilty under the act could face up to five years in jail.

It will be up to the RCMP to decide if an investigation is warranted based on the watchdog groups' allegations.


Groups File Documentation with RCMP on Canadian Mining Company's Involvement in Mexican Corruption Case

Press Release by MiningWatch Canada - Common Frontiers - Council of Canadians - United Steelworkers - Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine - Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network - Sierra Club Canada - L'Entraide missionnaire - Social Justice Committee

10 March 2010

(Ottawa and Toronto) A coalition of Canadian non-governmental groups today filed a memo with the RCMP asking it to investigate Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration Ltd. and its Mexican subsidiary under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. Blackfire had submitted documentation of its payments to the mayor of Chicomuselo in the state of Chiapas, Mexico to the state Congress in June, 2009. These documents are now in the hands of the RCMP. Bribing a foreign public official is illegal under the rarely-used Act, one of the few Canadian laws that applies internationally. Under this Act any person found guilty could face up to five years in jail.

"There are really no other legal controls on the activities of Canadian companies operating internationally," said MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Jamie Kneen. "We're especially interested to see anything can be done in this particular case because it's so appalling." Rick Arnold, coordinator of Common Frontiers, added, "The company's own documents show that it paid off the local Mayor and another municipal authority. We need to know - and the Mexicans deserve to know - that something can be done about this."

According to a document signed by Mr. Artemio Avila Cervera, a director of Blackfire Canada and Blackfire Mexico's General Manager of Social Responsibility, Blackfire Mexico has made payments totalling at least 204,022.69 Mexican pesos (equivalent to approximately CDN$20,000 at prevailing exchange rates) to Mr. Julio César Velázquez Calderón, the Mayor of the municipality of Chicomuselo in the state of Chiapas, Mexico for unofficial services for the benefit of Blackfire Mexico. The company has also provided the mayor with other benefits including airline tickets for himself, his family and his associates.

As Ken Neumann, Canadian director of the United Steelworkers pointed out, "Companies like Blackfire are the face of Canada abroad. Self-regulation through a 'corporate social responsibility' framework is clearly not working and so it is essential that the RCMP investigate these allegations and hold Blackfire to account for its actions."

Blackfire has been in the news since November 27, 2009, when Mariano Abarca Roblero, a prominent Mexican anti-mining activist, was shot to death in front of his home in Chicomuselo. Mr. Abarca was a leader of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA, from the Spanish) and one of the most important figures to publicly denounce the negative social and environmental impacts of Blackfire's open-pit barite mine in Chiapas. Three current and former Blackfire employees have been arrested for his murder.

According to a recent report in the Mexican press, Blackfire is also threatening to sue the government of Chiapas for $800 million in compensation under Chapter 11 of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) for the closure of its barite mine by local environmental authorities in December, 2009.

A Canadian non-governmental delegation will visit Chiapas during the week of March 20-27 to review the situation with local organisations and government officials.

The memorandum and associated documentation are available at http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/groups-file-documentation-with-rcmp-canadian-mining-company-s-involvement-mexican-corruption-case.

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For more information please contact:

1. Common Frontiers - Rick Arnold (905) 352-2430 - comfront(at)web.ca
2. Sierra Club Canada - Michael Bernard (613) 241-4611x230 (office) (613) 302-9933 (cell) - michaelb(at)sierraclub.ca
3. MiningWatch Canada - Jamie Kneen (613) 569-3439 (office) (613) 761-2273 (cell) - jamie(at)miningwatch.ca
4. United Steelworkers - Mark Rowlinson (416) 544-5983 - mrowlinson(at)usw.ca
5. Council of Canadians - Dylan Penner (613) 795-8685 - dpenner(at)canadians.org

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