Dar es Salaam. Acacia Mining, the former Barrick Gold’s subsidiary in Tanzania, spent as much as US$1.2 million annually to pay officials from Tanzania’s security organs in a possible breach of the company’s anti-corruption policies.
Barrick Gold, one of the world’s leading gold and copper mining companies, acquired Acacia in 2019, following months of dispute that the latter had with the Tanzanian government over tax-related issues. Barrick was the majority shareholder before the acquisition.
According to e-mails obtained by Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail, Acacia paid the money to dozens of Tanzanian civil servants on a national law-enforcement task force, known as the NTF, which reports directly to Tanzania’s president.
The payments were in addition to Acacia’s regular payment to Tanzania’s civilian police for security around its gold mines in the East African nation.
The paper obtained the e-mails and memos after they were cited in a legal case currently underway in the High Court of Justice in London. In the case, Tanzanian nationals are suing the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) for wrongfully certifying gold from Barrick’s deadly North Mara gold mine in Tanzania as being ‘responsibly sourced.’
The e-mails and memos show that Acacia executives were worried about the company’s risk exposure because the payments could create the appearance of “undue influence” over Tanzanian public servants.
One internal memo cautioned that the task force was a powerful body and that any payment changes should be carefully managed “for political as well as operational reasons.”
The payments began in 2008 and were funnelled to as many as 60 officials on the task force by 2015, the e-mails say. They included per-diem payments, often much larger than standard per diems under Tanzanian government guidelines.
The payments, which stopped in 2015, also covered other expenses by the officials, including car hire and fuel.
The task force, which included intelligence agents, police and military officials was responsible for monitoring and investigating any threats to Tanzania’s critical infrastructure.
The Acacia gold mines were deemed included in its mandate, leading to Acacia’s payments to the task force, although the company e-mails complained of a lack of transparency about the NTF’s activities.
Acacia made weekly payments to three bank accounts from which the task force members drew their allowances, the e-mails show.
Nick Rowell, Acacia’s chief compliance officer at the time, said in an e-mail to colleagues in September 2015 that the “government support payments” posed a risk to the company and “no longer comply with our anti-corruption policies.”
Earlier, Rowell cast doubt on the legitimacy of two NTF internal units receiving payments from Acacia, writing: “Payments to the so-called armed robbery unit, and the so-called underground unit, should – from a purely anti-corruption compliance perspective – be suspended immediately.”
Peter Geleta, another company executive, said in a separate e-mail that “a few of us” had been complaining about the payments for 18 months, “and it is clear to me that our own people are protecting this domain.” The payment system, he said, “places the company under huge reputational risk.”
Earlier, a memo to Acacia management by chief security adviser A.D. Firth had raised concerns about “the inference of undue influence” and “liability for the actions of the NTF” due to the payments. It called for a comprehensive review of the payments.
“The NTF is an important and powerful agency with links to the highest level of Tanzanian government,” the memo said. “It has supported Acacia’s interests well for some considerable time, and any changes to the relationship must be very carefully managed for political as well as operational reasons.”
Contacted by The Globe & Mail, Barrick declined to speak about the internal e-mails, with its spokesperson, Kathy du Plessis, saying that Acacia had an independent board and management team until Barrick privatised it in 2019.
She added that Acacia and Barrick have never exercised any control over the Tanzanian NTF or police, and the NTF was not involved in any of the incidents alleged by the claimants in the London court case.
“We are confident that the allegations that have been made in the London court case are without merit, and look forward to having the opportunity for the London courts to adjudicate this matter and put it to rest finally,” the paper quoted her as saying.
Recently, Barrick Gold has been under pressure from human and environmental rights groups, accusing the company of serious human rights violations in Tanzania, particularly at its North Mara goldmine in northern Tanzania.
Apart from the case at the London court, Barrick also filed two other lawsuits in Canada and the United Kingdom by Tanzanian nationals over the company’s alleged human rights violations. Both cases are ongoing.
Barrick has always denied any involvement in human rights violations at its mines and surrounding communities, saying it is committed to the communities’ welfare and the overall development of Tanzania as a nation.