NEWS

Modern-day Midas strikes gold in South Africa mines

Greek-Cypriot Loukas Pouroulis graduated in metallurgy from the Athens National Technical University in 1958, returned to Cyprus in 1962 and worked in the mines before heading for South Africa in 1964 with two suitcases and a mere 100 pounds. Taken on by the Anglo-American Corporation, he worked for Western Deep Levels for six years. When he decided to set up his own mining business, many believed he would be crushed by South Africa’s two mining giants, but as an employee he had observed how the industry operated and had done research on abandoned mines. Pouroulis plucked up the courage to see Thomas Gibbs, the mining engineer for the South African government, who advised him to explore specific areas and confirmed that gold was available where Pouroulis had done his exploration. For Pouroulis it was a leap in the dark. He admits today: «I was frightened. I already had three children and I had no idea what I was up against.» After being granted mining rights until October 1974, he introduced a new method using activated carbon to extract the gold, which was to change gold mining in South Africa. It took six years to make the mine a profitable enterprise, and the mine brought in a profit of 1.5 million dollars. Pouroulis did not forget Gibbs and when the latter resigned from the government he offered him the post of general manager, which he accepted. For Pouroulis, having Gibbs in his enterprise was not just an act of gratitude but also a means of gaining further credibility and being able to benefit from Gibbs’s mining expertise. Pouroulis then set up the company Lefkochrysos, which would be the first to use chromium to mine platinum, the first of its kind in South Africa. Other subsidiaries were created in this period. In 1977 the Salene group of companies, producing gold, platinum and diamonds, was founded. However, the stock market crash of 1987 destroyed everything. Local newspapers ran headlines such as «Lefko-crisis» and «Greek Midas that won and lost billions of dollars.» For three years Pouroulis and his associates had to defend themselves in court cases, accused of defrauding companies associated with Lefkochrysos. In 1990 the court issued its verdict of not guilty and Pouroulis once again made the headlines: «Pouroulis loses a dream but wins a moral victory.» Pouroulis had managed to save one gold mine, Consolidated Modderfontein and was not prepared to give up the fight. In due course he founded the highly successful Aquarius Platinum together with two of his partners. They repurchased Lefkochrysos, which within nine months of reopening had returned a profit. He set up a new company from scratch, Eland Platinum, which became a huge enterprise. Recently a deal was clinched for the sale of the company. Pouroulis has since opened businesses outside South Africa. «Tharisa Minerals, which mines platinum and chromium, will be listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2008,» said Pouroulis. Keaton Energy, a carbon mine, is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and is run by his son Phoebus. Another company, Trans-Africa Resources, mines gold in Rwanda, Congo, Mauritius and Senegal. Pouroulis’s other son, Adonis, lives in Spain and manages Petra Diamonds, which operates in South Africa, Angola and Sierra Leone, producing 500,000 carats a year, expected to rise to 2 million. «It is definitely my most successful enterprise,» said Pouroulis. Asked if optimism is enough to guarantee success, Pouroulis said: «You need to work hard, you have to have guts and to be far-sighted. You need to be able to see what’s coming. Some things you learn from experience but you have to have it in you.» This article first appeared in the March 16 issue of Kathimerini’s weekly supplement K.