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February 24, 2024
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Gold

Boss of top gold producer dismissed over $5.9mn ‘irregular payment’


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Endeavour Mining, one of the world’s top gold producers, has fired boss Sébastien de Montessus for alleged “serious misconduct” after discovering an allegedly irregular multimillion-dollar payment instruction.

The FTSE 100 company said in a statement on Thursday that the dismissal of de Montessus as president and chief executive would take place “with immediate effect”. It also said it had received separate allegations regarding his personal conduct with colleagues.

De Montessus said in response that he was given “48 hours’ notice of the concerns and no proper opportunity to answer them” and is taking his time to consider his position with his advisers.

The ousting came after the group, which operates four mines in West Africa, alleged it discovered an irregular payment of $5.9mn made on de Montessus’s instructions in relation to an asset disposal. The board’s investigation into the allegedly irregular payment is ongoing.

De Montessus said that he instructed a creditor in 2021 to offset a sum owed to Endeavour to pay for essential security equipment to protect its partners and employees in a conflict zone.

While admitting a “lapse in judgment” for not informing the board of the arrangement, he said that “the decision had no additional cost to the company and did not benefit me personally in any way”.

Endeavour’s London-listed shares fell 10.5 per cent in trading on Friday. Its Toronto-listed shares closed down 10 per cent on Thursday following the announcement.

Endeavour did not specify to which asset sale the irregular payment related. The company has made a series of divestitures of non-core assets in complex transactions in recent years.

The company added that a separate allegation was made in October 2023 through its confidential whistleblower channel in relation to de Montessus’s personal conduct with employees without elaborating further.

De Montessus responded that “no misconduct of any kind was discovered because none occurred”.

Following a three-month external investigation into the personal conduct allegations, findings had been delivered to the board, which had been deciding the appropriate course of action to take when it unearthed the irregular payment instruction.

The dismissal of a senior executive in the gold industry represents a further blow to the mining sector’s patchy reputation among investors.

A high-profile figure in the gold mining industry, former investment banker de Montessus took the top job at Endeavour in 2016 after senior roles at La Mancha, a mining investment group, and Areva, the French nuclear energy group.

Endeavour Mining said the full details of the impact of his dismissal on his remuneration would be disclosed in due course.

The board has appointed Ian Cockerill, currently deputy chair at Endeavour and the former chief executive of Gold Fields, a South African gold mining company, as CEO.

Wayne Lam, analyst at RBC, said de Montessus’s dismissal created “substantial near-term uncertainty” for the world’s tenth largest gold miner as it attempts to complete two critical growth projects in West Africa in the coming months.

This article has been amended to reflect that Ian Cockerill is the new chief executive, not interim CEO as previously stated.



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