The vital statistics of Infinito Gold, based in Calgary, don’t look good. It has no functioning mines and a negative working capital of $154 million. Monitor magazine assesses their condition bluntly: “Infinito should be six feet under.”
Yet, it staggers on. The only thing keeping the zombie mining company going in Costa Rica is cash infusions from Calgary billionaire Ronald Mannix. He refuses to let it die.
If you’ve been to Costa Rica, you know how important eco-friendly tourism is to the small Central American country. Infinito seems to have been blind to that culture when they bought land on the border of Nicaragua to build an open-pit mine fifteen years ago.
When I visited the area near the border of Nicaragua in 2012, Costa Rican pride in their pristine rivers and forests was evident. Back in June 2002, on the occasion of World Environment Day, the Costa Rican president of the time, Abel Pacheco, banned open-pit mining completely.
But not even banishment could stop the mining company from lurching forward. In an apparent bribe, Mannix flew to Costa Rica in 2008 to offer $200,000 to a Foundation named after the new president Oscar Arias Sánchez. Suspiciously, shortly after the trip, the president decreed that the open-pit mining ban was lifted.
Costa Ricans were incensed and through a citizen court secured a moratorium on Infinito’s activities; regrettably, not before the company had done $10 million in damage to the proposed mining site.
Costa Rica’s attorney general wanted to get to the bottom of Sánchez’s motives for lifting the ban. While that move would be virtually impossible in Canada under the iron fist of the PM, Costa Rica’s attorney general boldly investigated possible wrongdoing of his own government.
The key was whether the $200,000 offered by Mannix had actually been transferred to the president’s foundation. A request was made of Canada’s Department of Justice to provide a definitive answer. At first, Canada ignored the request, and then stonewalled by demanding additional information from Costa Rica; disclosure of which would have breached the country’s privacy laws.
In the absence of cooperation from Canada, Costa Rica’s attorney general recently stated the case against Sánchez would have to be closed for lack of corroborating evidence.
When apparent bribery doesn’t work, Mannix has yet another scheme to jolt the lifeless body of Infinito. It’s called investor rights. The concept was first embedded in NAFTA, soon to be entrenched in the TPP. Rick Arnold explains the twisted strategy.
“Time to call it quits? Nope. Infinito Gold’s main backer, the unremitting Mannix, decided to up the ante by gambling on an investor–state lawsuit against Costa Rica, to be heard outside the courts by a private, investor-friendly World Bank tribunal. The legal costs would be expensive, but a win could earn the empty shell of a company megabucks in compensation for not building its mine.”
Even if Mannix wins, the shattered hulk of Infinito will crumple. It’s a lose-lose situation. Costa Rica will lose $94 million for rejecting a mine that was never wanted, promoted by a vindictive Canadian, conducted by a tribunal in secret.