Speculation was mounting yesterday that Barrick Gold was edging closer to a sale of its key WA assets, with the Anton Billis-run Tribune Resources tipped as a suitor for the East Kundana gold mine.
The world's biggest gold miner declined to comment about television reports of a possible sale to Tribune, a joint venture partner in the East Kundana project, but it is well known that the shock correction in the bullion price has triggered a rationalisation of Barrick assets.
The Granny Smith, Lawler and Darlot mines of the South Yilgarn are for sale and the company is believed to be open to offers on its ageing Kanowna and Plutonic mines.
It was not clear yesterday who would run the East Kundana mine, 21km west of Kalgoorlie, in the event that operator Barrick goes ahead with a sale to Tribune.
East Kundana yields 12g of gold per tonne and is one of the most profitable operations in Australia.
A sale to South Perth-based Tribune would place Mr Billis, who was the target of a bungled four-year investigation by the corporate watchdog, regardless of the bearish bullion market.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission probe collapsed in 2004 after it emerged that Mr Billis and his associate Frank O'Kane, who faced allegations accusations of "improper use of position" relating to an options deal, were charged under laws that were repealed five years before.
Through Tribune and Rand Mining, companies that have hefty stakes in each other, Mr Billis has built a little-known but very profitable operation. As of last year, the companies had amassed huge reserves of bullion in the Perth Mint. Tribune's March quarter production report revealed it had $8.9 million in cash.
Market observers have long wondered why the share price of Tribune is not higher. Its shares closed at $1.61 on Friday. Mr Billis could not be contacted yesterday.
The fresh speculation about Barrick included a suggestion its stake in Kalgoorlie's superpit could be on the block, along with East Kundana and the South Yilgarn assets.