Barrick sees Acacia $300 million as down payment to settlement

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian miner Barrick Gold Corp ABX.TO said on Thursday that a $300 million "good faith" payment its Acacia Mining unit ACAA.L will make to Tanzania should be considered as down payment toward settlement of a multi-billion dollar tax dispute.

Shares in Barrick, which reported weaker-than-expected earnings after markets closed on Wednesday, dropped 6 percent in early trade on Thursday to C$18.98.

Barrick said last week it reached a framework deal to end a months-long dispute between Acacia and the Tanzanian government, which included the government getting a $300 million payment from Acacia toward outstanding tax claims and a 16 percent stake in Acacia’s three in-country gold mines.

Tanzania banned unprocessed mineral exports as part of a push to reap greater rewards from resources in March and in July served Acacia, the country’s largest gold miner, with a $190 billion bill for unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.

“The $300 million is best looked at as a down payment, but it’s our expectation, in discussions with the Tanzanian government, that the total number of any resolution could be brought into that level,” Barrick Chief Operating Officer Richard Williams said on a conference call on Thursday with analysts.

“It would be premature of anybody to sit and say that is a final position. Which is why we refer to it as a down payment: there’s more work to be done yet.”

The $300 million will be paid out incrementally from Acacia’s ongoing cash flows, meaning that payment depends on its ability to resume exports.

Before the export ban can be lifted, Richards said studies must be completed and test systems rolled out. A Barrick team is in the east African country and will work with the government to complete that work.

Acacia’s operations affected by the ban account for about 6 percent of Barrick’s 2017 gold production forecast.

Jefferies analyst Christopher LaFemina said that a resolution to Acacia’s problems has been “elusive”. “Although Barrick is exploring growth opportunities in the Americas, this issue in Tanzania has been yet another factor leading to lower gold production for the company,” he said in a note to clients.

Barrick, which owns 63.9 percent of Acacia, said it is aiming for a final agreement with the government of Tanzania by mid-2018, and is also working with the east African country to lift an export ban affecting Acacia.

The final agreement will require approval by a committee of Acacia’s independent board members and the majority of shareholders, Barrick said on a conference call with analysts on Thursday.

Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas