LONDON – Chile’s worst civil unrest in decades means the Democratic Republic of Congo is a more attractive proposition for mining investment, according to billionaire Robert Friedland.
While Chile, the world’s top copper producer, seeks measures to quell the social unrest that exploded last month, the election of President Felix Tshisekedi earlier this year has improved the prospects in Congo, Friedland said at the Mines and Money conference in London on Monday. Ivanhoe Mines, founded by Friedland, is developing the world’s second-largest copper-mining project in Congo, with production due to start in 2021.
“There is a new sheriff in town,” said Friedland, referring to Tshisekedi. Chile is now a “terrible place to invest in mining, while Congo is a really great place,” he said.
Over more than two decades, mining investor Friedland and his small team have made some of the biggest mineral discoveries in the world.
In addition to unearthing Africa’s largest copper deposit, other projects include building the Oyu Tolgoi copper-and-gold mine in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and discovering the Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit in Canada, which he sold in 1996 for more than $3-billion. Ivanhoe is also developing a platinum mine in South Africa.
“You have my sympathies,” said Friedland, commenting on investors in Chile. The billionaire is well known for making controversial comments.
His statement drew the ire of the Chilean government, which touted the South American nation’s track record.
“The person who expresses this opinion doesn’t know Chile,” Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica said in a voice mail. “Chile has a long history of a stable mining investment climate and one month of complex issues can’t erase that.”
Congo also has its own issues to address. Companies mining and buying copper and cobalt from Congo must do more to fight corruption and child labor in the country, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said earlier this month.
Friedland “is comparing us with Congo, which has a history of instability and of not respecting the rules of the game,” Prokurica said. “Chile is a serious country with clear and permanent rules.”