After the Gold Rush

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TORONTO: "We share the shock and dismay of our shareholders and others that the gold we thought we had at Busang now appears not to be there." That was the Captain Renault-esque reaction of Bre-X head David Walsh to an independent report calling the once highly-touted Busang, Indonesia lode the biggest scam in the history of mining. In its report released Sunday, Strathcona Mineral Services said that gold from outside sources had been added to the crushed rock core samples that Bre-X had gathered as evidence of the supposed 200 million ounces of gold at Busang. Trading in Bre-X on the Toronto Stock Exchange, NASDAQ and other markets has been suspended indefinitely. TIME's Toronto bureau chief Andrew Purvis calls the damning report "the final chapter of an extraordinary tale." Stock in the Canadian mining company had soared from pennies a share in 1993 to over $200 last year after the company reported it was sitting on one of the biggest gold fields ever discovered. Rumors first began to swirl on March 17 of this year, when a senior company geologist fell from a helicopter under suspicious circumstances. That same week, New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold reported what was confirmed Sunday: that there was no gold in them thar hills. Share prices plummeted more than 80 percent following that announcement. When the outside gold was added, and by whom, is not yet clear. Bre-X, which itself hired Strathcona, has promised to launch an investigation.