When last we checked in on Bougainville’s Panguna copper mine, there was considerable talk of reopening the long-shuttered operation—much to the consternation of indigenous groups who have long fought for a more equitable distribution of the proceeds. Now comes word that a few Americans might be sticking their nose in the island’s business, thereby threatening Panguna’s future:
The president of autonomous Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville, John Momis, says a shadowy American group, with links to a militant rebel group, is de-stablising his government.
The rebel group calling itself the Me’ekamui Tribal Nation, which refuses to acknowledge the government’s legitimacy, reportedly has the backing of the so-called Tall J Foundation.
Mr Momis says he’s met the Americans who he understands want to begin extracting alluvial gold in Bougainville.
“I don’t know very much about them. All I know is that they’re a menace. They are trying to sabotage all our efforts to create unity and a sense of responsibility, to get ourselves prepared for re-opening of the [Panguna] mine. They are more or less carpetbaggers, running around misleading ignorant people.”
Okay, then, so what is the Tall J Foundation? Records are spotty, indeed—I couldn’t find a corporate listing in the United States. This forum post from 2010 suggests that Tall J has been soliciting investors for some time now, with a fantastic promise of 500 percent returns. If the poster is to be believed, the company’s director is one Stephen M. Strauss, with addresses in both Texas and Olive Branch, Mississippi. I got another pop on that exact name through a recent SEC case, in which a Stephen M. Strauss stands accused of orchestrating a pump-and-dump stock scheme while head of the Chilmark Entertainment Group. (One of the press releases alleged to have played a role in that scheme can be read here.)
Coincidence? Well, Chilmark was headquartered in Southhaven, Miss., just a stone’s throw from Olive Branch, so I’m thinking the answer is “no.”
The only other easily accessible trace of Tall J is this LinkedIn listing for one James Blackmore. But I can find no connection between Blackmore and Strauss—at least not yet.
The bottom line is that it seems that a tiny, shady-seeming investment concern actually appears to be wreaking genuine havoc on the Bougainville peace process. That immediately made me think of such infamous 19th-century filibusters as William Walker, who fomented great chaos in Latin America in the service of making fortunes. This is why private interests really shouldn’t be permitted to assume roles that might destabilize shaky governments; corporate self-interest is typically more at odds with international order than diplomatic self-interest.