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RusAl Rejects Guinea's Tax Claims

United Company RusAl on Friday rejected a claim by Guinea's mines minister that it owes at least $860 million in unpaid taxes and said it aims to "protect its rights" in the West African nation.

"The company has not received official notification about these tax claims and does not recognize them," RusAl said in a statement. "UC RusAl is a good-faith investor and one of the largest taxpayers and employers in Guinea."

Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam said Thursday that auditing firm Alex Stewart International, which it hired to inspect RusAl's operations in Guinea, had informed his ministry that the company owed at least $860 million.

His comments follow a conflict over the purchase of the Friguia alumina refinery in Guinea, which Conakry says RusAl paid too little for. Thiam said Guinea suspected RusAl of exaggerating the cost of operations to pay lower taxes.

RusAl said via its press service that it was the "legitimate owner" of the Friguia bauxite and alumina complex.

Mining firms have had a rocky time in Guinea, the world's biggest bauxite exporter, since the December 2008 coup that followed the death of veteran ruler Lansana Conte.

A court in Guinea last year ruled that the 2006 sale of the Friguia alumina refinery to RusAl was unlawful, although RusAl last week said that the court of appeal in Conakry had overruled the decision.

The company reiterated this decision in its statement: "In March, the Guinean appellate court ruled in the company's favor on its appeal regarding Friguia. RusAl intends to protect its rights in the future if needed."

RusAl also said that in February 2010 it agreed with the Guinean government to establish a joint high-level commission aimed at providing a stable basis for long-term cooperation.

"The company is now waiting for suggestions on the commission composition from the Guinean side," RusAl said.

Guinea's military rulers have promised to hold elections in June, though preparations for the polls have been dogged with delays.

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