Thursday, October 04, 2007

Russian metals giant proposes tracking platinum-group metals

WASHINGTON, October 3 (RIA Novosti) - Norilsk Nickel, a Russian metals giant, proposed enhancing control over the circulation of platinum-group metals as a counterterrorist measure.

The company said that terrorists often prefer precious metals to cash as a source of funding for their operations.

NorNickel is one of the world's largest precious and non-ferrous metal producers, accounting for more than 20% of the world's nickel output, and over 10% of cobalt and 3% of copper.

"We propose controlling the purchase of stock and introducing certification and customs control systems based on a unique identification method," Alexander Perelygin, a NorNickel deputy general director, told a news conference in Washington.

The official said the company spends around $2 million annually on developing identification methods, with assistance from FBI experts. "We want to continue this kind of work not only in platinum, but in other fields as well," he added.

According to Perelygin, the initiative by NorNickel and other companies, including those from the U.S. and Germany, was backed by the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

"As a result of discussions, we established that the problem is even more serious, as illicit circulation is also widespread in the mining of gold, copper, cobalt, beryllium, and there are problems in diamond production, despite the Kimberley Process," Perelygin said.

The Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme that regulates the trade in uncut diamonds to prevent diamond sales from being used by rebel groups. The trade in illicit uncut diamonds contributed to devastating rebel wars against legitimately elected governments in countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.

Perelygin said terrorist groups in the North Caucasus are highly interested in platinum-group metals and aim to seize control of their production.

"There were attempts on several occasions to make our company sign mining deals with dubious firms," the official said. He specified that one such firm had been run by a resident of the North Caucasus, who had been accused in 1999 of buying portable surface-to-air missile systems for militant groups, although the charges were later lifted under an amnesty.

According to Perelygin, company representatives claimed they had a unique mining technology, but actually wanted to legalize illicit metals through the scheme.

Norilsk Nickel produces 96% of Russia's nickel, 55% of its copper and 95% of its cobalt. In 2006, the company produced 3.164 million ounces (98.4 metric tons) of palladium, compared to 3.1 million ounces (97.4 metric tons) in 2005. Production of platinum totaled 752,000 ounces (23.4 metric tons) last year, compared with 751,000 ounces (21.29 metric tons) in 2005.

RIA Novosti - Russia - Russian metals giant proposes tracking platinum-group metals