The Colombian government says it will seize and close a mine run by FARC guerrillas that has supplied tungsten to some of world’s leading multinational companies.
Colombian security forces are in the advanced stages of preparing an assault on Tiger Hill, the mine in a remote part of the Amazon jungle run by FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said National Police Col. Jose Gerardo Acevedo.
“We are planning and organizing an operation to shut it down,” said Acevedo, who commands Colombia’s rural police, which are responsible for fighting illegal mining. “We are closing in on that region to be able to get to the mine.”
The government action was triggered by a Bloomberg Markets magazine report in September, Acevedo said. The article showed how tungsten mined for the profit of FARC makes its way into the supply lines of the makers of BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches and Volkswagens, computers and BIC pens.
Apple Inc. and Samsung (005930) Inc. have also bought material from that tainted supply line. The parts are used for iPhones, iPads, iPods and Galaxy mobile devices.
The planned raid on Tiger Hill follows a move by the European Union to impose tough laws to prevent companies from buying minerals that fund the conflict in Colombia.
Col. Acevedo said the Colombian police already knew that FARC was illegally profiting from tungsten mining. What they didn’t know was that the metal, after being exported, was going to so many multinational companies, he said.
“As you noted, there is a criminal economy that comes from the sale of tungsten,” Acevedo said, referring to the “Tungsten’s Tainted Trail,” the Bloomberg Markets story. “What you showed spurred a lot of concern about following where it’s being exported.”
Slideshow: Tungsten's Tainted Trail
The plan to shut down Tiger Hill is part of a government push to close mines that are funding the Marxist guerrilla group’s half-century-old war to seize power in Colombia, said Mining Minister Amylkar Acosta.
FARC, which says it wants to take control of the Colombian government, holds sway over vast regions of Colombia’s Amazon and stages fatal attacks on police patrols near the area.
“We are taking a zero tolerance stance when it comes to mining that is linked to illegal groups,” Acosta said.
As Colombia aims to clamp down on the supply of illegal tungsten, the European Union is taking steps to stop tungsten purchases from Colombia. The EU, like the U.S., classifies FARC as a terrorist organization.
Following publication of the Bloomberg Markets story, the EU intensified efforts to put in place the world’s most sweeping laws to prevent companies from buying minerals that fund warfare.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has proposed legislation requiring companies in the EU to prove that suppliers of tungsten and three other minerals don’t come from mines that fund conflict in Colombia.
At a September EU parliamentary hearing in Brussels, De Gucht said FARC-mined minerals in Colombia are a reason why the law must be passed. The European Commission should adopt the legislation early next year and send it to the EU Parliament for a vote in 2015, said John Clancy, De Gucht’s spokesman.
“We hope this legislation will cause companies to do the right thing and mine minerals in a sustainable way,” said Judith Sargentini, a member of the EU parliament who’s spent 13 years advocating laws to restrict companies from acquiring commodities that fund armed conflicts.
One of the biggest importers of the Colombian tungsten was a U.S. unit of Plansee SE, a Reutte, Austria-based metals processor, trade records show. That division, Towanda, Pennsylvania-based Global Tungsten & Powders, stopped buying the metal from Colombia after Bloomberg Markets learned of the FARC connection.
Plansee, the parent company, processes tungsten products and sells them to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW), Ferrari SpA, Porsche AG and Volkswagen AG (VOW), Siemens and BIC, these companies said. These companies said they conducted investigations in response to Bloomberg Markets’ report. They all now say they are confident their supply lines are free of minerals mined for the FARC.
Apple and Samsung, which make the majority of electronic mobile devices in the world, had also purchased materials that came from the same sellers of Colombian tungsten. Both companies opened investigations into their suppliers as a result of the Bloomberg Markets article. They now say that all of their products no longer have any tie to FARC tungsten.
The Tiger Hill mine sprawls for more than 15 acres across a remote stretch of Colombia’s southeastern Amazon jungle controlled by dozens of heavily armed FARC fighters, police intelligence reports say.
The mine is inside an Indian reservation, which by law doesn’t allow any mining. The fact that Indian tribes live in the regions surrounding Tiger Hill complicates the planning of a police raid, Acevedo said. Police say they don’t want to injure any Indians.
Police and military units also are increasing patrols and checkpoints along the tungsten smuggling routes Bloomberg Markets reported on, near San Jose del Guaviare on the edge of the jungle. “Our legal and intelligence efforts are directed to where the tungsten arrives and where it’s headed,” Acevedo said.
The push towards Tiger Hill began Oct. 9, when police, army and navy commanders and officials from the National Prosecutor’s office met in Puerto Inirida, the city six days down river from Tiger Hill. That day, police and military patrols moved down the Inirida River, where a Bloomberg Markets reporter and photographer traveled to report the story.
Police have since seized and destroyed five unlicensed mining barges from Tiger Hill, arresting 11 workers, Acevedo said.
“The security forces are present now, we are doing operations in the region,” Acevedo said. “All of this is aimed at combating these subversive forces.”
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