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I'm innocent, says Bre-X man

TORONTO (Reuter) - The former exploration chief of Bre-X Minerals, John Felderhof, said yesterday he was not aware of nor did he participate in any tampering with gold samples at Bre-X's Busang deposit in Indonesia.

In a statement from his home in the Cayman Islands, Mr Felderhof said he believed the systems and personnel in place at Busang were adequate to detect tampering.

He also said he still believed "there is a significant amount of gold at Busang" since reports which revealed the gold fraud dealt only with the south-east zone of Bre-X's gold deposit, and the central zone "remains unchallenged".

A recent private investigation of the Bre-X debacle concluded that Michael de Guzman, Bre-X's chief geologist, salted gold samples from the Busang deposit. He died in an apparent suicide in March this year when he fell from a helicopter in Indonesia before the fraud came to light.

"I still find it very hard to believe that as a respected geologist [de Guzman] tampered with Bre-X's core samples. If Mike was involved with tampering, to my knowledge this will be the first time that a professional geologist has ever been implicated in a tampering or salting scam," Mr Felderhof said. He added that he still believed there was gold at Busang.

"This belief is based on the structure, geology, mineralogy and alteration, as well as my many years' experience in the Pacific Rim. There are still many unresolved issues to consider."

Mr Felderhoff offered several points to support his stated ignorance of the fraud, saying: "If I had known about the alleged salted or tampering with Bre-X core samples, why would I have done the following: I stopped selling Bre-X shares in early September 1996, in part because I believed it was undervalued in the marketplace.

"I still hold a number of Bre-X shares. I reinvested millions of dollars in Bre-X by converting options I held into Bre-X stock in September 1996, which stock I still hold today."

He said the company had hired well-known and reputable experts, such as Kilborn Engineering, Normet Pty Ltd, and Mineral Development Resources Co to review or audit results and operations. "We also chose well-known and reputable laboratories."