For its part, the government of Cameroon relied on a legal team composed of attorneys from Patton Boggs and leading French firm Gide Loyrette Nouel for representation in the Sundance negotiations. Asselineau says the countrys decision to rely on outside advisers was a significant departure from the approach itand many other African countrieshave adopted when negotiating with foreign companies in the past. At the same time, he adds, the government's decision to employ outside counsel was helpful in moving the talks along.
Cameroon was the most complex part of the project because thats where you have most of the investment, Asselineau says. And since there wasnt as much of a natural resources culture there, its a lot easier to negotiate with other lawyers [who] have experience in project development work.
Leading the Patton Boggs team were corporate partner Douglas Boggsthe son of senior partner and so-called King of K Street Thomas Hale Boggs Jr.and corporate, finance, and infrastructure partners Thomas Reems and Alan Noskow, all of whom are based in Washington, D.C. Also advising the government of Cameroon was Gide M&A partner Christophe Eck in Paris.
That the parties were able to reach an agreement suggests Sundances outside advisers followed the appropriate course by stepping in to help keep the company running in the wake of the fatal plane crash more than two years ago.
Michael Blakiston, an energy and natural resources partner at Gilbert + Tobin, was one of those strategic advisers tapped to serve as an interim operational director to replace some of the Sundance executives who died in the crash. Now a nonexecutive member of the Sundance board, Blakiston was at the time a name partner at Perth-based Blakiston & Crabb who had already been tasked with advising the company on the agreements relating to the Mbalam-Nabemba project.
Asselineau says Blakiston devised the strategy whereby Sundancemost of whose assets are located in Africasuspended trading of its shares on the Australian Securities Exchange in the immediate aftermath of the crash in order to stabilize the company as it dealt with the loss of most of its senior executives.
Blakiston also continued to advise Sundance on the negotiations necessary to obtain convention agreements with the governments of Cameroon and Congo related to the Mbalam project, even while overseeing a merger between his firm and Gilbert + Tobin in May 2011. (The two Aussie firms had established a formal alliance the year before.)
The convention agreements that have now been struck essentially spell out the financial, legal, and tax terms under which Sundances Cameroonian subsidiary, Cam Iron, will develop and operate the massive mine and related transportation infrastructuresuch as a deep sea port and more than 300 miles of railwayneeded to gain access to the Mbalam region's precious metal reserves. (Asselineau adds that a separate agreement the company worked out with the government of Congo was much simpler because it didnt require the massive infrastructure investment slated for Cameroon.)
Blakiston, who was not immediately available for comment, did say in a statement released by Gilbert + Tobin that the signing of the convention is the culmination of six years of hard work and collegial efforts between all parties involved, which will result in a world-class iron ore operation in Cameroon.
The deal to develop the site, which is likely to be one of the most complex and integrated mining facilities on the continent, was signed on November 29 at a ceremony in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde. Asselineau says that attendees took a moment to remember those who died doing their jobs for Sundance.