Astra Says Gold Exploration Project Still On

An Australia-based firm that announced a plan to explore for gold in Ratanakkiri province insisted Monday that its Cambodian venture is still on track, despite allegations made in an Australian newspaper that it has garnered investment based on false information.

Astra Resources, which has companies incorporated in both Australia and the U.K., has made a series of public announcements since 2011 about its plans to acquire the mining exploration license—currently held by a Vietnamese firm—for a 222-square-km plot in O’Yadaw district.

On Saturday, the Weekend Australian newspaper published an article headlined “Astra raising based on lies, says former director.”

In statements made through an Australian law firm, Astra strongly refuted the claims made in the article, which cited a court affidavit from a former non-executive director and an interview with a former legal adviser attesting that Astra had raised as much as $46 million from investors in Australia based on false public statements.

The company’s last public statement about its Cambodian venture, in November last year, said the transfer of the O’Yadaw license was set to happen in the first half of this year as the company had made its penultimate payment for the tenement.

The company originally entered into a joint venture with Australian firm Petone Mining to acquire the license, but that deal fell apart with both sides claiming the other was in breach of contract.

Naren Raj, director of Raj Lawyers, said by email Monday that Astra Resources was still in the process of buying the mining exploration license from Vietnam’s Namhai Mineral Joint Stock Company.

“Astra Resources will pay the final installment upon the gold exploration license being transferred to our client. Namhai has indicated it is still in the process of effecting that transfer,” Mr. Raj said, explaining by telephone that “foreign ownership rules” in Cambodia were responsible for the delay.

“Therefore there [is] no doubt about our client’s involvement in the Cambodian project,” he said.

The Weekend Australian article, which was still online Monday, named the gold venture in Cambodia among Astra’s proclaimed projects.

“Dozens of media releases and company announcements issued over recent years herald ‘imminent acquisitions,’ ‘joint venture agreements’ as well as ‘memorandum of understanding’ yet details of how the company has financed the acquisition spree have never been forthcoming,” the newspaper stated, also referring to other projects announced by Astra, which include iron ore mining in India, a Nigerian coal mine and a gold project in Vietnam.

The article quoted doubts about the validity of Astra’s public statements from an affidavit by former director Richard Walker, which was submitted to the Australian Federal Court in Adelaide last year. The submission was in relation to a case filed by Astra in September 2012 accusing the publisher of the website Wikifrauds of airing misleading or deceptive claims about the company.

In a letter to the Weekend Australian newspaper, obtained Monday, Raj Lawyers, acting for Astra Resources, called the story “incorrect, defamatory and libelous” and insisted Mr. Walker had withdrawn his statement to the court in a filing just this month. The letter threatens that Astra will seek damages from the newspaper unless a retraction is printed and the online article removed before Friday.

Mr. Raj provided a copy of an affidavit, dated July 5, in which Mr. Walker withdraws the claims about Astra saying he “was not aware of all the relevant facts” when he made the original statement under oath in May.

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