Jardine Fleming's invitation from the Papua New Guinea Government to advise on the purchase of a stake in a mine on the troubled, tropical island of Bougainville should have been a routine deal. Jardine Fleming led in the sale of stock in Orogen Minerals, the privatised division of Papua New Guinea's Mineral Resources Development Corp, in October last year which generated strong international interest. The invitation from the government in January must have been a clear sign that it was pleased with the outcome and was ready for more business. The events of the following four weeks combine elements of farce, tragedy and the bizarre which a current inquiry in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, is attempting to sort out. The story involves an improbable cast ranging from the country's most senior political figures, including former prime minister Sir Julius Chan, blue-chip financial advisers and the shadowy men of Sandline, mercenaries whose loyalty is only to their paymaster. What is known is that a desperate government had turned to mercenaries to resolve the civil war on the copper-rich island of Bougainville. Rupert McCowan, an associate director at Jardine Fleming, arrived in the capital, located in the southeast corner of one of the world's most untamed countries, allegedly before any news of his secret deal had leaked out. Mr McCowan, in his early 30s, had extensive corporate finance experience in Asia and the sub-continent. He had worked on the Pakistan Telecommunications' US$750 million fund-raiser, deals in India and was sent to Papua New Guinea as part of a routine visit. The Papua New Guinea Government and Jardine Fleming never signed a contract but it is understood he was to approach the mining giant RTZ-CRA about whether it wanted to sell its stake in the vast Bougainville copper mine. It had been closed for six years because of the continued unrest and the government wanted to know who it might be interested in selling to and for how much. The government's interest in the deal was probably heightened by an Orogen option to take an interest in the stalled Bougainville copper facility and confidence that the mercenary venture would resolve the dispute. Despite bitter protests from the United States and Australia, Sir Julius brought in about 70 men, mostly South Africans, to train counter-insurgency troops in the Papua New Guinea army and lead them in quashing the Bougainville revolt. Jardine Fleming insisted that Mr McCowan returned to his Hong Kong base after news leaked about the involvement of mercenaries. What happened during the next few weeks is the source of accusation and rebuttal in a Port Moresby commission of inquiry and is likely to be debated in future court actions. The allegations surfacing that Mr McCowan was involved in top level negotiations on behalf of the mercenaries is looking increasingly incredible following the denial by Sandline of his participation. But the fact that his name keeps resurfacing during evidence given to the commission of inquiry leaves some nagging questions.