UK Foreign Office criticized for backing Lydian gold mine in Armenia

UK Foreign Office criticized for backing Lydian gold mine in Armenia

PanARMENIAN.Net - The UK Foreign Office has been criticized by a British MP and international campaigners for its support of a controversial mining company in Armenia, openDemocracy reports.

New information released under the Freedom of Information Act shows frequent contacts between the UK Foreign Office and Lydian International, the company behind the flagship Amulsar gold mining project in the South Caucasus state. These releases shine a light on campaigners’ concerns about the ties between the mining company and the British embassy in Armenia.

The records reveal how British embassy staff in the Armenian capital Yerevan, including ambassadors, were in regular contact with Lydian International about its Amulsar gold mine from 2013 to 2018. They arranged presentations, seminars, meetings, working groups and project updates. For example, the records list 55 contacts between January and July 2018 between Lydian International and the embassy.

An index of internal communications for 2018 shows how the embassy has followed Amulsar since Armenia’s "velvet revolution" put the $400 million mine at the forefront of the country’s politics.

Armenian environmental campaigners have raised concerns about this relationship, writing open letters about ambassadors’ conduct to the UK Foreign Office in 2013 and 2019.

"It is concerning that British government representatives in Armenia have been supporting the construction of this remarkably controversial mine, one which could have a deleterious effect on the environment, as well as the associated health and wellbeing of rural communities,” says Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle. “These documents raise questions about why the UK government would take such a political risk.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “British embassies play a positive role in helping to grow business around the world for UK companies. As such, the British embassy in Yerevan engages with British businesses active in the Armenian market.”

Lydian International did not respond to requests for comment.

Located in the southern Armenian province of Vayots Dzor, the Amulsar gold mine, owned by Jersey-incorporated Lydian International, has been in development for over a decade. In 2013, UK ambassador Katherine Leach called it “potentially the largest British investment in Armenia”. Lydian states it will provide $488 million to the Armenian state budget in tax and royalty contributions through the ten-year operation of the mine, as well as provide 770 jobs.

But after a mass protest movement pushed Armenia’s Republican Party out of power in April and May last year, the mine has become the site of a major stand-off between the Armenian government, protesters and the mining company.

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