As rival mining companies fight over a nickel deposit in the Solomon Islands, the Prime Minister’s office has been forced to retract a statement it issued earlier in the week, admitting quotes attributed to the Prime Minister had not been made by him.
The original statement came after the Court of Appeal declared invalid the registration of land by landowners supporting the ASX-listed Axiom Mining (ASX code AVQ) and stripped their joint venture company of its prospecting licences.
The statement said the Government would now be able to move ahead with a “reputable” company.
In the new statement the Prime Minister’s office apologised to Axiom and promised a level playing field for new nickel licences, favouring neither Axiom nor its Japanese rival Sumitomo Metals Mining (SMM) Solomon Islands Limited.
The Prime Minister’s office said the statement needed to be retracted because it “misrepresented the Prime Minister and the entire Solomon Islands government on the case and… did not reflect the appeal court ruling.”
“The press statement carried direct quotes from the Prime Minister himself and this is misleading because the Prime Minister never expressed the government’s position on the issue,” it added.
The blame has been placed on Andrew Muaki, the Special Secretary to the Prime Minister, who the PM’s office said was “the sole adviser” behind the release.
Axiom Mining’s CEO Ryan Mount has welcomed the retraction.
“To the Prime Minister’s credit, and he’s an honourable man… he has come out and he has rectified the situation,” he said.
Nickel exports to continue this year, says Axiom
The deposit at the centre of this fight is one of the richest green field nickel-laterite deposits in the Asia Pacific region.
For almost five years Axiom Mining and its landowner partners have been slugging out a court battle with Sumitomo to win the rights to develop it.
At the same time Axiom KB (Axiom’s joint venture with the landowners) has been moving forward with its plans on-site.
The Court of Appeal decision invalidating the registration of land and stripping Axiom KB of its prospecting licences took many by surprise.
The Office of the Prime Minister has apologised for “any inconvenience, financial strain or ill-feeling the erroneous press release may have caused.”
Mr Mount said Axiom is happy to abide by the process established by the government.
The first exports by the Axiom KB project were expected this year.