February 16, 2018 / 4:47 PM / 3 months ago

Exclusive - Acacia, China miners in talks over Tanzania gold deal - sources

VANCOUVER/TORONTO (Reuters) - China’s Shandong Gold Mining Co Ltd (600547.SS) and Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd (601899.SS) are in separate talks with Acacia Mining Plc (ACAA.L) to form a joint venture for the London-listed company’s gold mines in Tanzania, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Acacia’s majority shareholder, Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO), is involved in the discussions, the people said.

Acacia, caught in a near year-long tax dispute with the government of Tanzania, has also has held talks with state-owned China National Gold Group about such a partnership, two of the people said, although it was not clear if those talks are ongoing.

Shares in London-listed Acacia, which were down around 3 percent, rebounded after the Reuters report to trade up as much as 3.4 percent. They closed down 0.9 percent, at 162.95 pence.

Its shares have fallen around 70 percent in the past 12 months due to the tax dispute as well as an industrywide export ban on minerals not processed in Tanzania. Its woes have also weighed on Barrick’s stock, which is down some 30 percent in the past year.

Acacia, which has all its operations in Tanzania, confirmed the Reuters report, saying that in response to expressions of interest from Chinese companies it has begun a process to explore the sale of a stake in some or all of its operations. It said the process was at a very early stage.

If successful, the discussions could lead to a joint venture agreement between Acacia and a Chinese company that would own Acacia’s three mines in the East African country - Bulyanhulu, Buzwagi and North Mara, the people said.

    The talks are aimed at forming a 50-50 joint venture, one of the sources said. But the final deal structure is being negotiated, and questions remain about who would end up operating the asset.

    Barrick, the world’s biggest gold producer by output, declined to comment. Shandong, Zijin and China National did not respond to requests for comment over the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

    The transaction under discussion is similar to deals Barrick has struck in recent years with Shandong and Zijin, where Chinese groups have become partners in mines owned by the Canadian gold miner, the people said.

    Shandong’s executives were in Tanzania last month doing due diligence on Acacia’s mines, one of the people said.

    CHINESE HELP Getting a Chinese partner for its mines could help Acacia smooth relations with Tanzania after they fell apart last year over tax and the government crackdown on the mining sector, one person said. Tanzania wants to attract more investment from China, which is already one of its five top foreign investors and whose clout has grown across Africa. China is also the world’s biggest consumer and producer of gold.

    Tanzania’s government last year accused Acacia, the country’s biggest gold miner, of under-declaring mineral exports and slapped it with a massive $190 billion tax bill. Acacia denies the charges. Last March, the government banned miners from exporting minerals that are not processed in the country as it aims for a bigger slice of the revenues from its natural resources. As a result, Acacia’s gold sales fell nearly 30 percent last year, pushing it to a financial loss. Its chief executive and finance chief quit in November. With relations strained between Acacia and Tanzania, Barrick, which owns 63.9 percent of Acacia, has taken the lead in negotiations with the government. It reached a framework agreement with Tanzania in October and is aiming for a final deal in the first half of 2018.

    Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver and John Tilak in Toronto; Additional reporting by Susan Taylor in Toronto, Zandi Shabalala and Clara Denina in London, and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Editing by Denny Thomas and Susan Thomas

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