Energy Minister Skourletis to meet Eldorado Gold chief after firm suspends work in Skouries

Energy Minister Panos Skourletis is expected to meet on Wednesday with the head of a major foreign investor in Greece, Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold, which on Tuesday announced the suspension of operations at its plant in Skouries, northern Greece, and threatened to halt another project in nearby Olympias.

The meeting is expected to be tense after both men issued strong statements on Tuesday. Eldorado Gold CEO Paul Wright told reporters the company was suspending its investment program in Skouries due to a series of obstacles that have been thrown up by authorities. “Our investment is treated as a political toy, we never anticipated this,” Wright said. “Failure to receive timely licenses and permits has proved very expensive,” he added.

The suspension of the Skouries plant is expected to lead to 500 job losses over the next three months with another 600 layoffs on the cards if authorities do not issue a permit for the company by the end of March. Wright said other foreign investors would be watching the Greek government’s treatment of Eldorado, adding however that the company had no plans to pull out of Greece.

Earlier on Tuesday, Skourletis accused Eldorado of trying to blackmail the government. The minister expressed skepticism about the Skouries plant, which has been opposed by some local residents. “When an investment is assessed it must be considered whether it undermines other jobs in the region,” Skourletis said, suggesting that the firm’s decision to suspend operations has more to do with a drop in the price of gold than anything else.

Later in the day, the ministry announced the imposition of a 1.7-million-euro fine on Hellenic Gold, Eldorado’s Greek subsidiary, citing 21 legal transgressions between 2012 to mid-2014.

Any company that respects the law has nothing to fear, Alternate Minister for the Environment Yiannis Tsironis said on Tuesday, commenting on the decision of Eldorado Gold.

“Any company that respects the law, the environmental conditions and the public interest has nothing to fear,” the minister said, adding that the European Court proved that Eldorado Gold should not have taken the land without paying the 14.5 million euros it was supposed to pay.

“I think this is the main reason why the company is now leaving and its stock collapsed. All other arguments, that there were delays, that permits were not given etc. are bad excuses,” he added.

Eldorado’s decision to limit its mining activity prompted criticism of the government from the opposition parties, business groups and labor unions. “The investment by Eldorado Gold was exploited by SYRIZA in both of the recent election campaigns,” said New Democracy. “The result is the freezing of the largest investment that has been made in the country over recent years, which sends the wrong message to the international and domestic markets.”

The Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) also stressed the potential damage the mining company’s decision could do to investor interest in Greece. “Greece needs investment,” said SEV’s president Theodoros Fessas. “There is not enough public money and the borrowed cash has run out. We need private funds, but for those to come we need to show seriousness, stability and to cultivate trust between the state and investors.”

The private sector labor union GSEE also accused the government of putting jobs at risk due to ideological hang-ups.