The Kare saga - Prologue

The high-security cell at Port Moresby’s Boroko Police Station is basic. No air-conditioning, no seating, not even a window. Its sole concession to creature comfort, if it can be called that, is when the floor is occasionally sluiced, washing the bodily waste of its occupants into the open drain against the rear wall. On the night of Friday 29 May, 1992, the cell held more than twenty men, arrested for offences ranging from petty theft to rape and murder. They sat, sullen and surly on a bare concrete floor stained red from years of betel nut spit. The air was foetid, rank with the smell of dried sweat, recent crimes and the drain at the back. One prisoner stood out from the crowd. He was the only white man, and was wearing a suit and the old school tie. Andi didn’t wonder why he was locked up with Port Moresby’s criminal dregs, he knew. It was all to do with a gold rush at a place called Mount Kare, and the rights of the people who lived around it.

It’s a long story. Parts of it were published in the Papua New Guinea and Australian press, others have been discussed in the Parliaments of both countries. Company reports and correspondence fill some of the gaps, but none of these sources tell the story as Andi knew and lived it.

It started in late 1987, when CRA geologists from CRA - Conzinc Riotinto of Australia - were digging a toilet hole for their camp at Mount Kare, in the PNG Highlands. They struck gold. They’d found traces in the creeks before, but now they’d found nuggets. Word got out, and in January 1988 thousands of miners rushed to the new El Dorado. Andi had been in joint ventures with the people of the area since 1968, running stores. They trusted him, and the landowners of the discovery area asked him to help them negotiate equity participation with CRA. The landowners came from several different traditional groups, which were more often enemies than friends. Andi spent three years helping them to form a single representative body – Kare-Puga Development Corporation (KDC) – of which he was made Secretary. For the landowners represented by KDC the prize would be 49 per cent of an alluvial gold mine at Mount Kare. It was, literally, a golden opportunity. The first attempts to hijack it came from PNG politicians and a collection of foreigners and shady opportunists, determined to cash in on whatever was going, and if possible take it over. Their combined attacks were unrelenting over nearly five years.

PNG elections were due in 1992. Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu’s Pangu Government was challenged by the Opposition People’s Democratic Movement, led by Paias Wingti. In January 1992 the Mount Kare mining camp was attacked and destroyed by what the newspapers called ‘terrorists’. There was speculation that one motive was to enhance the chances of the Opposition by causing political instability before the elections – a tried and tested campaign tactic in PNG. There were claims that Paias Wingti’s political campaign was partly funded by West Australian mining interests, and one prominent politician later alleged, under Parliamentary privilege, that Paias Wingti and an Australian entrepreneur called Denis Reinhardt had funded the attack. This was never proven or repeated.
Denis Reinhardt was an old university friend of Wingti’s, and their student politics were slightly pinker than Elton John. Reinhardt had dropped out of university, become a journalist, and then a failed mining entrepreneur. An Australian bank was after him for $11.11 million dollars. He turned up in PNG two weeks after the attack on the Mount Kare camp, visiting a mining and a petroleum project with Wingti and a group of Mount Kare ‘landowners’, and soon became Wingti’s key advisor. Backed by Perth mining juniors Ramsgate Resources and Menzies Gold and working with Warner Shand Lawyers of Port Moresby, Reinhardt and a group of dissident landowners tried to challenge CRA’s rights, seize control of KDC, and take over the lucrative Mount Kare project. CRA, Andi Flower and the core KDC Directors very naturally resisted, and a series of battles ensued, inside and outside the courts. The stakes were high, and the game got dirty.

After the July 1992 elections Wingti became Prime Minister, heading an uneasy coalition and attacking the country’s resource developers. In PNG, Prime Ministers are immune from votes of no confidence for 18 months after their election. In 1993 a threatened Wingti sought to buy 18 months security. He suddenly resigned as Prime Minister, and was immediately re-elected by a surprised Parliament. The Supreme Court subsequently disallowed Wingti’s strategy, and the Prime Minister’s position was open. Parliament voted, and Sir Julius Chan became Prime Minister. Chan didn’t have much time for Wingti’s old friend Reinhardt, and questions were asked about his role. In December Reinhardt was ordered to leave the country. Soon after this he surfaced in the Solomon Islands, this time backed by the Australian law firm Slater & Gordon, affiliating himself with dissident landowners at Ross Mining’s Gold Ridge project and demanding a slice of the action. It all seemed very familiar.

So what happened at Mount Kare with CRA, KDC and Andi Flower? This is Andi’s story.
 


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