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Friday, April 2, 2010

Persian Gold Will Be Changing Almost Beyond Recognition

By Alastair Ford

“Persian Gold is battling on”, says company chairman John Teeling. In one sense that short phrase encapsulates everything that Persian’s been about since it listed several years ago with high hopes of prizing open the promising geology that’s been locked up behind baffling and impenetrable bureaucratic structures for longer than anyone can remember. The Iranians that John Teeling brought to London, and Dublin, were an impressive bunch, and friendly too. And the geology certainly was promising, no doubt about it. The company held, and still holds several licences across the famous Tethyan belt, which hosts rich mines in the west all the way to Turkey, and in the east in Pakistan and beyond. Gold-copper porphyrys and volcanic-hosted gold deposits are the prize, and one day someone with enough muscle, and enough stamina will come in and take one or many of these prospects into production.

But it’s now looking increasingly likely that that someone won’t be Persian Gold. At least not in the short-term. For a man who’s built a career out of being the first mover in all sorts of situations, John Teeling’s not one to take defeat lying down. There’s no talk, yet, of withdrawing from Iran. On the other hand, he’s not known for throwing good money after bad either, and a quick look at the list of the announcements that have come out from Persian over the last 18 months, shows that you have to go back to January 2009 before you get to any news about drilling. Some hiatus, and although the company wasn’t shy in its interims nine months later in stating a considered view that its Chah-e-Zard deposit could be “commercial”, that boldness was more than balanced by the subsequent clear and uncompromising statement that “further progress and development has been frustrated by inaction on behalf of the authorities”.

No mincing of words there, but it was the next statement that gave the clearest indication that John was beginning to feel that enough was enough. “Persian Gold is looking to examine other opportunities and strategic directions”, read the statement. Once that statement of intent was out in the public domain, speculation raged about exactly where the company would focus next. One thing seemed sure – the name “Persian Gold” was likely to have reached its sell-by date sooner rather than later.

Now, some months into 2010, it looks as though that prognosis is about to come true. John’s been fairly tied up lately grappling with financing and legal issues relating to one of his other companies, African Diamonds, but in the background the work to turn the ship at Persian Gold around has been going on unabated. The big work at African Diamonds is nearly over, as the company has until 14th April to exercise its option to go up to a 40 per cent interest in its AK6 diamond project. Whether it does so or not – and the signs are that it will – the die will have been cast, and the shape of AK6 and African Diamonds will have been settled. With Lundin making the running there, John can sit back, wait for production to start rolling in, and start to think about exploration.

Persian Gold then rises to the top of the “to-do” list, and John makes no bones about it. “I think we could anticipate significant changes in Persian Gold in the next six weeks”, he says. “We’re looking at material outside of Iran.” No surprises there, although just exactly what is on the cards isn’t clear yet. There was speculation at the end of last year that the company might make a move into Bolivia, either into the oil space, or into the newly fashionable lithium sector, or both. The market thinking now is that it’s a bit early for the lithium deal, although such a deal may yet come off in due course. Oil looks the most likely bet.

And if the leap from copper and gold in Iran to oil in Bolivia looks a bit far, it’s worth just bearing in mind that John, and his moneyman Jim Finn, have wide reach across a multitude of resources in a multitude of jurisdictions. That all of the operations are relatively small is neither here nor there –these chaps know the small oil scene just as well as they know the small mining scene, and they’ve made money in both. Pan Andean and Petrel Resources are the two most recent oil companies out of the Teeling stable, though “Pan” as it was affectionately known on the markets has now been sold. And given that Pan had South American operations at its core for many years, there’s perhaps an obvious gap to be filled there. We’ll know soon enough.