The Blog

Open Letter to Greg Hands MP about Cyanide Mining in Romania

Dear Mr Hands,

I received an invitation to at dinner which is to take place next Thursday (20th June) at the House of Lords - at which you are billed as the main speaker.

I understand that you are a banker by profession, a Government Whip in the Treasury, were the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Romania and you "first visited Romania during the revolution".

But are you aware of what's going on in Romania today? If not, I would like to take this opportunity to update you about two of the companies which are sponsoring this dinner.

I'm not sure how implicated Stanleybet, one of the dinner's 7 sponsors, is involved in dark side of Romania's gambling epidemic, but I would like to share my concerns with you.

This is how I described the gambling epidemic at the end of last year: "The statistics are unbelievable: more than 10,000 small neighborhood betting shops and casinos; an estimated 1.5 million Romanians who use these shops - 10 percent of whom are assumed to be compulsive, or addicted, gamblers.

"The gambling industry turns over a minimum of EUR 1.2 billion a year able to dodge taxes due to poor enforcement and weak legislation. The online part of this industry is also worth billions, but it is totally unregulated and untaxed."

In an article for an investigative newspaper, Alexandru Varzaru wrote: "Out of all the EU member states, our legislation is the most permissive. Romania has become a heaven for the gambling industry."

But the gambling epidemic is chicken feed compared to the destruction that the main sponsor of your dinner - Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) - threatens Romania with. RMGC is an offshore investment fund that is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and plans to build the biggest cyanide lake in Europe.

They will demolish three villages, four forested mountains, an ancient Roman mine and build a reservoir that will hold 214 million tons of highly toxic cyanide waste. After 15 years the investors will depart, leaving the hapless Romanian government with a toxic wasteland that will be impossible to clean up. The project is shortlisted as one of the 7 most endangered cultural heritage locations in Europe.

Although cyanide is used in Scandinavian mines (where small quantities are used in sealed containers) nothing on this scale has been attempted before in Europe. The only comparable projects are in Canada, where the area in question is under permafrost, and in the Australian desert. RMGC will use forty tons of cyanide every day and I believe that the groundwater and air supplies of Transylvania, one of the most beautiful and pristine parts of Europe, will become so toxic that whole populations will be displaced.

RMGC have spent hundreds of millions of pounds in convincing the Romanians that the destruction of their ecosystem is in their own best interests. They have become the biggest advertising spender in the country, have promised local jobs (even though the local villages will disappear from the face of the earth) and billions of pounds in tax income (even though RMGC's contract with the government is a state secret). They also promise to protect the environment.

I spoke with a local journalist in the area of the planned dystopia and they he said "we can't say anything negative about RMGC and we're not even allowed to use the word cyanide when referring to the project". Journalists in Bucharest also complain that they're unable to publish anything critical about the mining project.

Victor Ponta was a vehement opponent of the project until he became Prime Minister last year. Now he's been converted and is pushing through a new mining law that will enable mining investors to seize whatever land they like. This flies in the face of the property rights that successive Romanian governments have been carefully building up since they overthrew Communism in 1989.

The good news is that the local residents association in the village of Rosia Montana has managed, against all the odds, to block the project in the local courts. Based on their plea to save their homes, pristine forests, pastures and water supplies, the local courts have stood up to the investors. I'm sure you would agree that this is an encouraging sign that Romania's charity and legal sectors can function independently.

I would like to invite you to visit the Rosia Montana area of Transylvania so you can see how an ancient people still live off the land. I went hiking there recently and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the place - similar to Tuscany but more lush and mysterious. The area could do well economically if it were promoted as a tourist destination and not scheduled for destruction.

Rupert Wolfe Murray has no connection, financial or otherwise, to any of the campaigns to save Rosia Montana.