ISLAMABAD - The Balochistan government has engaged a team of reputed international lawyers to defend its point of view on international arbitration as the notices have been served on it for refusing a mining licence of Reko Diq project to Tethyan Copper Company (TCC).

The TCC, previously owned by BHP of Australia, and the Government of Balochistan are partners under the Chagai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement (CHEJVA), originally signed between BHP and the Government of Balochistan in 1993.

Well-placed sources informed that notice to Balochistan government was served through International Chamber of Commerce, while another notice, invoking Pak-Australia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), has been served on the federal government by International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). This is being said to be the biggest arbitration claims in the mining sector.

The federal and the provincial governments are coordinating with each other to devise a uniform strategy and engagement of legal experts. However, the sources told The Nation that the provincial government to plead its case has engaged a team of legal experts comprising Arthur Marriott, Queen’s Council (QC); Cherie Blair, QC and wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair; Barrister Mehnaz Malik, investment law expert; Balochistan Advocate General Amanullah Kanrani; and Ahmer Bilal Soofi, an international law expert who also represented the Balochistan government in Reko Diq case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The team will provide comprehensive legal opinion to the Balochistan government on the strength of the case after assessing both the merit and irregularities carried out in the award of the joint venture.

On the other hand, Tethyan has hired the services of Lord Goldsmith, former attorney general of UK. The arbitration most probably would be conducted in London.

The TCC in November, 2011 filed a case against Pakistan in international court of arbitration to protect its legal rights in line with the Chagai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement (CHEJVA) and Balochistan Mineral Rules 2002. The Reko Diq project, located in Chaghi district was developed by Tethyan Copper Company Pakistan (TCCP), jointly owned by Barrick Gold Corporation, Canada and Antofagasta, Chile.

In May last year the Supreme Court withdrawing stay order in Reko Diq case advised the Balochistan government to decide about leasing out of copper and gold mining project to TCCP on merit. After that judgment the provincial government on May 25 handed over the matter to the Balochistan Mining Committee (BMC) and directed to take the decision as per Mining Rules 2002. The mining committee sought the reply of the objections from the company on September 21. The objections raised by the government include a number of legal and technical points, and TCC has been asked to respond within 30 days.

The foreign company presented the report to the mining committee on October 19, but the committee rejected the feasibility report and termed it incomplete.

The provincial government had raised ten objections over mining licence application submitted by the TCC and gave it a month’s deadline to respond. The company repeatedly requested for time to better understand the objections but the government refused to either give time or extend deadline to file a comprehensive response.