Cairo October 16 2023: Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who has forged a fortune in telecom and gold, is eyeing an investment in Barrick Gold Corp.'s $7 billion Reko Diq copper-gold project as he looks to expand his business in Pakistan.
Reko Dig, in the Balochistan region that borders Afghanistan and Iran, is one the world's largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits, capable of producing 200,000 tons of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold a year for more than half a century. The project is jointly owned by Barrick and Pakistan.
Asked whether he was interested in investing, Sawiris, a major investor in gold miners including Endeavour Mining Plc through his La Mancha Resources Inc., said "yes." "I have an advantage compared to other investors. I know the country, I have friends here," Sawiris said in an interview in Islamabad. "We want to be on the Pakistani side, because I have been here for 25 years." He did not elaborate on the potential scale of the investment, but added there were few other options, in part due to the lack of geological data: "We tried here to look but unfortunately there is only this one big project."
Last month, Barrick Chief Executive Officer Nark Bristow said he was seeing newfound "interest" in Reko Diq from multinational mining firms that have to date been hesitant to venture into tricky regions of the world. The mine has also attracted interest from Saudi Arabia, whose presence could serve to stabilize the project in a contentious part of the world. Pakistan's state-owned energy exploration companies, which have a stake in the project, said last month they were looking into "potential engagement" with sovereign foreign investors, without giving details.
Sawiris' Ora Developers is separately working on a luxury housing project, Eighteen, and he earlier set up one of Pakistan's first mobile phone companies, Mobilink, now owned by Veon Ltd., and the nation's largest cellular firm by subscriber numbers.
Pakistan's lengthy, difficult official procedures, an unstable currency and capital restrictions are hurdles for investment, but Sawiris said he remained optimistic. "If there is concrete in my way, I'll drill through it and I'll go," he said.