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Swiss-Based Mining Company Halts Illegal Operation in Azerbaijan's Karabakh Region

By Ilham Karimli December 29, 2022

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The announcement of Base Metals came amidst the ongoing protest of the Azerbaijani ecological activists, civil society members, and volunteers on the Lachin road against illegal exploitation of mineral resources in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh economic region / Courtesy

The management of Base Metals, a mining company that has been illegally extracting minerals in the certain parts of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region where Russian peacekeepers are deployed, announced on Wednesday a temporary shutdown.

The reason for the termination of the company’s activities in the region is reportedly “the desire to conduct some kind of expertise.” No details regarding the resumption of the Base Metals’ activities have been provided.

The announcement came amidst the ongoing protest of the Azerbaijani ecological activists, civil society members, and volunteers against the illegal exploitation of mineral resources in the Karabakh economic region of Azerbaijan. Since December 12, the protesters have been demanding an end to illegal mining activities and misuse of the Lachin highway for the transportation of extracted minerals.

The rally was triggered by the failure of the temporary Russian peacekeeping mission to ensure the conduction of preliminary monitoring of ore deposits by the group of Azerbaijani experts. Since December 3, the group has been holding negotiations with the peacekeeping commands to launch the monitoring. On December 10, they were supposed to visit the deposits but were hindered by the Armenians living in the region. The peacekeepers have not been taking necessary measures to facilitate the monitoring by the experts since then, thus sparking criticism from the civil society and the government of Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani authorities have been calling for more efficient control over the Lachin highway by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. 

The demands gained momentum after reports surfaced about the illegal transportation of minerals from the Azerbaijani territories temporarily monitored by the peacekeepers to Armenia via the highway. Baku-based Caliber.Az news agency reported on November 30 that eight Kamaz trucks accompanied by a Nissan Patrol SUV with an Armenian license number 731-AB-61 ER, made their way from the Khankendi city of Azerbaijan to Armenia between November 10 and November 14. Moreover, on November 16-18, identical vehicles were seen on the Lachin highway going back from Armenia to Khankendi.

According to operational data, raw materials extracted at the gold mines near the village of Gulyatagh of the former Aghdara (current Tartar) region of Azerbaijan, located in the zone of temporary responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers, have been transported on these trucks. The materials were moved by the Base Metals company, a subsidiary of Vallex Group Company based in Switzerland, which engaged in the looting of precious metals in Kalbajar, Zangilan, and Aghdara during the occupation and currently is active in the area where Russian peacekeepers are stationed.

Base Metals is officially registered in Switzerland, financially sponsored by Armenian-origin Swiss citizen Vartan Sirmakes and is headed by Moscow-based Armenian Valery Mejlumyan. Vallex Group established Base Metals in 2001 and deployed it illegally for the exploitation of the Heyvali deposit in the Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan then occupied by Armenia. According to various sources, from 2009-2011, the company processed 400,000 tons of ore, exceeding the norm by 250,000 tons. After “draining” Heyvali, Base Metals shifted its operations to the Gizilbulag and Damirli fields in the former Aghdara (current Tartar) region of Azerbaijan. The ore extracted from this deposit was mainly exported to European countries. Base Metals illegally involved foreign experts in the mining in the Karabakh region, including South African mining engineer Johann Murray, who in 2016 sat for an interview with a separatist “television.”

The company reportedly paid $38.5 million in taxes to the illegal separatist regime in 2019 for its activities. 

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan proved that Vallex Group and Base Metals companies earned $178 million from looting the Gizilbulag field from 2009-2017.