Goldcorp Inc. has won a court battle against larger rival Barrick Gold Corp. over ownership of the potentially massive El Morro copper-and-gold deposit in Chile, a potentially massive deposit that could become a mine as early as 2017 and keep running for nearly 20 years.
The ruling, by Ontario Court justice Herman Wilton-Siegel, may end a protracted dispute between Canada's two largest gold miners, and comes at a time when the industry is finding it harder and harder to find new deposits of significant size and in friendly jurisdictions.
El Morro could hold more than three times the amount of gold that Goldcorp produced last year and the ruling will likely impact the company's stock price when markets open on Wednesday.
Analysts said in March that a victory in the dispute could add 45 cents to Goldcorp's share price.
"We are pleased that the court has confirmed our position that our acquisition of El Morro was completely proper and consistent with the relevant agreements and Chilean law and that Goldcorp's 70-per-cent ownership share of the project has now been clarified for our shareholders," said Goldcorp president and chief executive officer Chuck Jeannes.
Toronto-based Barrick had claimed that Vancouver-based Goldcorp illegally obtained control of the project through violations of agreements among the mine's shareholders, while Goldcorp said it acted fairly.
"Barrick will review the Court's ruling in detail and will consider its options, including a possible appeal in this case," the company said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Goldcorp acquired 70 per cent of El Morro through an intermediary. In January, 2010, New Gold Inc. owned 30 per cent of the mine and agreed to buy the remainder from Xstrata PLC of Switzerland for $463-million (U.S.), and then to sell the stake to Goldcorp for that amount plus $50-million in cash.
Goldcorp also advanced the funds for New Gold's purchase from Xstrata.
Barrick says the transactions violated its own agreement with Xstrata in October, 2009, to buy the El Morro holding from the Swiss company. New Gold inappropriately exercised an option to buy Xstrata's stake, according to Barrick.
Barrick said it continued to believe that New Gold Inc. improperly exercised its right of first refusal, unlawfully interfering with the company's right to acquire the stake in El Morro from Xstrata.
El Morro is a copper-gold development project located in northern Chile, approximately 800 kilometres north of Santiago. Proven and probable gold reserves at Dec. 31, 2011 totaled 5.84-million ounces of gold and 4.36-billion pounds of copper on a 70-per-cent basis. By comparison, Goldcorp is forecast to produce some 2.6-million ounces of gold this year.
But the ruling does not mean a green light for the project, which saw construction halted in May after the Andean country's Supreme Court suspended approval of an environmental permit until authorities can investigate deficiencies identified by an appeals court in Antofagasta, in Chile's rich northern mining region.