Afghans draft in PwC to open up $3trn mineral reserves

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The Independent Online

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has been called in by the Afghanistan government to develop its $3trn mining and minerals industry.

The Ministry of Mines is understood to have hired the British big four accountant to help develop the country's vast natural resources as Afghanistan looks to drag itself out of the economic mire caused by decades of conflict.

A "handful" of PwC advisers from the firm are working with the ministry, a source said. On Friday, the ministry addressed about 200 senior mining figures in London, which is widely considered the global economic capital of the sector.

Afghanistan is looking for a big international miner to develop the Hajigak iron ore deposit that lies 130 killometres west of Kabul, in the mountainous Bamiyan province. It is relatively safe, with a low Taliban presence.

It is thought that the deposit contains 1.8 billion tons of iron ore, potentially worth billions of dollars to miners willing to explore and develop the area.

Gustavson Associates, a US consultant, is advising on a tender process that is likely to be launched towards the end of this year.

Afghan officials have recently moved to ensure that western miners are not deterred by fears of corruption. Earlier this month, the Minister of Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, said that he would make the contracting of mining rights as open a process as possible.

JP Morgan, which advises some of the biggest miners in the Ftse, including Xstrata, has visited Afghanistan to identify potential mining projects. Ian Hannam, the investment bank's famously successful rainmaker, recently confirmed the interest.

Mr Hannam is also involved in another big deal in the mining sector, it emerged on Friday. With Credit Suisse, he is advising on the flotation of a newly incorporated company called Vallar. Run by financier Nathaniel Rothschild, Vallar is looking to raise £600m to start buying assets from big mining companies that are looking to dispose of non-core assets. The group could end up spending as much as £5bn.

Another big listing is moving closer. Glencore, the secretive commodities trader, is expected to appoint advisers to help it raise an estimated £4.2bn in London in the next month.

A massive listing, it is expected that several banks could end up filling the so-called "bookrunner" positions. Citi and Morgan Stanley are almost certain to land roles because of their previous relationships with Glencore, according to an industry source.

However, the big names in the city will likely be keeping a closer eye on the Afghanistan situation. The bigger names, such as FTSE 100 stalwarts BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, won't want their rivals to steal a march on them in such a resource rich land.

They will be concerned that the military and political situations remain fragile. Just last week, US President Barack Obama replaced General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus as the top commander in the country.

General McChrystal made damning remarks about the Obama administration's handling of the Afghanistan war to a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine.

General Petraeus was the brain behind the counterinsurgency 'surge' that proved so successful in Iraq.