BHP's Iran, Cuba activities subject of SEC inquiry
By David Fickling
SYDNEY (MarketWatch) — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
looked into BHP Billiton Ltd.'s (BHP.AU) activities in Iran and Cuba due
to Washington's labelling of the countries as state sponsors of
terrorism, according to documents filed with the regulator.
In a document filed June 15, the world's largest miner said that it had
earned US$361 million in revenues from Iran in the four years to the end
of June 2009 and expected to make a further US$74 million from the
country in the most recent financial year.
It had also paid around US$2.3 million to state-owned Cuban nickel and
mining research companies for projects in Cuba and Guatemala from
2006-2008, the company said.
Many states and municipalities in the U.S. have passed laws in recent
years prohibiting the investment of public funds in corporations doing
business with countries on the U.S. government's state sponsors of
Massachusetts last Wednesday passed an Act forcing the state's pension
fund to divest its holdings in companies invested in Iran's oil industry.
The SEC occasionally looks into companies doing business in countries on
the list to ensure that U.S. investors are fully informed of the level
of risk involved.
However, the three-month inquiry ended on June 15 without further
action. "The SEC inquiry was routine and has now been closed," said a
BHP said that less than 1% of its shares are held directly by U.S. state
and municipal pension funds and universities, and 82% were held outside
Australia and the U.K., where BHP has its main listings, have full
diplomatic relations with Tehran and Havana, and the company leased
office space in Tehran from Australia's government trade body Austrade
while investigating constructing a natural gas pipeline with the
National Iranian Oil Co. between 2002 and 2005.
Soundings with investors did "not indicate that dealings with Iran or
Cuba are a significant concern", the company said.
The correspondence listed several activities BHP had carried out in the
countries. Alongside the pipeline project, BHP subsidiaries had sold
alumina, coking coal, manganese, and copper to state-owned Iranian
companies including Esfahan Steel Co., Mobarakeh Steel Co., Iranian
Aluminum Co., and National Iranian Copper Industries Co.
It had also purchased four cargoes of Iranian iron ore through
Dubai-based traders during 2007 and 2008, earning a profit of US$210,000.
A BHP subsidiary has also earned tariffs for gas from the U.K.'s
offshore Rhum field moved through the Bruce field, in which it is a 16%
holder. Rhum is a 50-50 joint venture between NIOC and BP Plc (BP.LN).
In relation to Cuba, a BHP subsidiary hired state-owned Cuban drilling
contractor Cubanex to carry out exploration drilling around its license
areas in Guatemala for a contract value of US2.7 million, although only
US$2.2 million was spent before the contract was suspended.
A further US$85,000 was paid to state-owned Cuban miner Geominera SA to
investigate turning slag into a cement and agricultural additive.
BHP executives in 2006 and 2007 also visited Cuba, meeting the country's
minister of basic industry and holding discussions on potential mineral
projects, although no agreements were reached and no discussions are now
ongoing, the company said.
BHP was also asked about activities in Sudan and Syria, but said it had
not had contact with the countries since May 2005.