promissory notes for weapons in the old Zaire, blog 14

To remind people of the last blog, a small exploration company named Bre-X stumbled upon a find in a wild and desolate part of the Indonesian jungle. The reported figures of gold concentration from drilling grew and grew. There was consternation that gold could be found in such large amounts. The reported amounts of gold were so vast that nobody stopped to think whether there was something strange happening. Fraud did not happen on such a vast scale.
In case anybody had any doubts about the veracity of their claim, Bre -X paid large amounts of money to people with unimpeachable authority, such as former presidents of the United States, to walk about with T-shirts claiming “Millions of ounces, plus, plus…”
People who claimed that there was no current geological model that could be used to explain the volume of gold found at the Bre-X site in Indonesia were booed off-stage at conferences. Exploration geologists who had surveyed exactly the same ground as Bre-X were sacked, and told they would never work in exploration again. The band wagon was rolling, and nobody was going to get in its way.
The fraud was only detected because a major American mining company went through the business of due diligence prior to purchasing Bre-X. Drill holes were re-drilled, and they found nothing. The senior geologist of Bre-X was summoned, but fell out of the helicopter on the way to the site.
This fraud, together with the plunge in the gold price, had a deadening effect on the metal and gold mining markets. I had moved to Canada from Australia at this time as my employer sought to expand. Every day I took the ferry across the river that runs through Vancouver. I sat in the office, twiddling my thumbs and wondering if I’d have a job next week. I travelled home by ferry and sat on the floor of my large flat, which had no furniture, and then went to sleep in my bed-roll in the corner of the bedroom.
It felt like I was waiting for something to happen.
To fill in some of the time, I arranged to meet up with a distant cousin. He was much older than me, and was a director of one of the more respected mining engineering companies in Vancouver.
We had a common ancestor who had been a blacksmith, somewhere in the Swansea valley, who had invented a steam valve that had been used quite extensively at one time. Revenue from its use had provided a reasonable pension for his widow. It was a starting point in conversation, and we also had the common theme of the mining industry.
My cousin’s first job as a mining engineer was in what was then called Northern Rhodesia (which became Zaire, and now Democratic Republic of Congo), and he was therefore something of an expert on the copper belt in this part of Africa.
At the time we met (around the time of Bre-X), a civil war was being waged in Zaire, hot on the heels of the dreadful Genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. Keen interest was being taken in the extensive natural resources locked up in this area.
My cousin was visited by various investors from the City of London to ask about whether he thought the abandoned copper mines in Zaire were still viable and how much remedial work was required. He said that these men had produced promissory notes from each side in the conflict (Kabilla as well as Mobutu), outlining how they would have preferential treatment when these copper mines were being handed out. He gained the impression that each promissory note had been bought with weaponry.
It seems that the gentlemen of the City liked to place their bets Each Way.
I was beginning to get the impression that the mining industry, particularly that bit of it in London, was not really for me. I began to look for ways of getting out.