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Mystery shrouds Bre-X manager's death

Dow Jones News Service - March 21, 1997

John McBeth, Jakarta – Mystery continued to hang heavily in the disappearance of Bre-X Minerals exploration manager Michael de Guzman Friday, as Philippine Embassy officials complained that the company's Jakarta office failed to respond to their phone calls and inquiries.

Deputy head of mission Belen Anota told Dow Jones that officials were still keeping an open mind about the circumstances surrounding the death of de Guzman, who is reported to have fallen March 19 from a helicopter taking him to Kalimantan's rich Busang gold deposit.

The Filipino geologist left behind an apparent suicide note, indicating he had a serious illness, but his body had yet to be recovered. Some Indonesian newspapers cast doubts Friday on the size of the Busang gold deposit, last reported at 70 million ounces.

'We don't know whether he committed suicide, whether he was murdered, or whether he was the victim of an accident,' Anota said. 'There are even some people who are saying he might not have been on the helicopter. We just don't know.'

De Guzman's Filipino wife lives with their children in Quezon City.

Anota complained that Bre-X had failed to provide any information about the incident and said the embassy is now seeking the cooperation of local authorities in the Kalimantan provincial capital of Samarainda in an effort to recover de Guzman's possessions and to verify what was in the suicide note he left in a bag found in the helicopter.

Bre-X has a 45% stake in the Busang deposit, with Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of Louisiana-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, controlling 15% and the remaining 40% held by the Indonesian government and private local companies. As the designated mine operator, Freeport is currently conducting due-diligence testing of the site.