Chairman of Scotgold Resources, and executive chairman alongside chief executive Chris Sangster since last January, Mr Bentley believes Scotland has so far overlooked a natural mineral wealth that could be the foundation for a much-needed new industry.
"The London market finances mining companies all over the world," he said, as fundraising got seriously under way for the dream of mining Highland gold and silver in 15 months' time. "In many countries that happens despite enormous political challenges. It just seems we neglect our own backyard."
Mr Bentley, who also chairs Scottish oil explorer Faroe Petroleum, is confident the funding – some £12m of debt and up to £15m of equity – will be raised, against a background of record highs (in sterling and euro terms) for the critical gold price. "I would hope this will be a catalyst for further mineral exploration. We ourselves, once we are in production, will be returning some of the revenue to shareholders, but the mine will throw off enough cash to put quite a bit back into exploration and development."
Scotland was last prospected by big mining companies in the 1970s. "They made some quite interesting discoveries, though they were looking principally for base metals, but there is also potential for gold and maybe even platinum, which we have stumbled on though we weren't looking for it."
Mr Bentley insisted: "It is a potential industry for Scotland and it can be done in a way that doesn't upset the environment too much, I think it can be done sustainably."
Born in Dundee and educated at Glenalmond in Perthshire, just 50 miles from the gold country, the young Scot went south to Brunel University to study metallurgy and then in 1970 much further south to his first encounter with gold.
"There weren't many opportunities in those days, I took a one-way ticket to South Africa and worked on the gold mines." Next he joined Impala Platinum as an engineer and landed a dream transfer. "I ended up in a most fantastic job, a one-man office in New York based in Rockefeller Plaza looking out on to the ice-rink, responsible for Impala's platinum marketing in the States - it was also nice to get out of South Africa in those apartheid years."
A new career with Gencor, a forerunner of BHP Billiton, took Mr Bentley to Cornwall's last tin mine, then to the burgeoning North Sea oil and gas industry – and back to gold. "I was offered a job in Brazil as MD of a goldmine, at Belo Horizonte. I had a young family and had to drag my wife kicking and screaming – but five years later she didn't want to leave."
The family, and the goldmine, had to contend with inflation running at 25% a month, but Mr Bentley led an innovative refinancing. The next decade saw him back in South Africa, but in the oil business, as chief executive of Engen's E&P division, and then of Energy Africa where he led a Johannesburg flotation in 1996 and stayed on at the helm for five years.
In late 2006 he was drafted in as chairman to rescue First Africa Oil, and in early 2007 sold it to African-focused Scottish explorer, Bowleven.
Soon afterwards the veteran was asked to become chairman of Scotland's newest arrival in the sector, Faroe Petroleum, for which he predicts "a very exciting future".
But for Mr Bentley, 64, and now based permanently in Newburgh, Fife, is Scottish gold the ultimate exploration challenge, not least because of its size? He said: "In world terms, investors don't really get interested until you start getting up to one million ounces (six times Cononish) but we believe the area we have has the capacity to host a lot of smaller deposits like Cononish – there are much larger deposits in Northern Ireland with exactly the same geology."
Mr Bentley added: "One of the reasons the Irish exploration is more advanced is that the government there has spent £6m on doing airborne geophysical work. We don't have the data in Scotland, we have to tramp round and do it ourselves, which takes a long time."
As well as the Cononish site, expected to generate cashflow of £65m over eight years and support more than 50 jobs, not far away is the River Vein area, where tests have found gold, silver, lead, zinc, and industrial metals tellurium and molybdenum, and Sron Garbh, where tests indicated gold, nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum.
Scotgold's experts say this "may indicate an extensive mineral system" sharing characteristics with major deposits found in Aguablanca in Spain and Ontario, Canada.
However, the pre-production cost at Cononish has doubled since flotation in 2009, to a minimum £25m. Mr Bentley said: "We hoped to get about 50% of that from debt, we approached a number of banks and fortunately we had two competing against each other, both of them came up with something novel and ideally suited for a company like ours. In the old days, you might have got the Scottish banks to do the same, unfortunately they don't have mining departments any longer."
RMB, a specialist subsidiary of South African bank First Rand, will pre-buy 20,000 ounces of gold at the spot price when the deal is done – and the price is currently some 60% above the business plan assumptions of $1100 (£685) an ounce.
The chairman said: "We are actively considering other forms of mezzanine financing and working with a merchant bank in Edinburgh ... but there isn't a regular market, we are almost having to develop it."
He concluded: "I just feel a project of this nature, given its profitability and its uniqueness, will be financed. It is quite an achievement to have brought in RMB; it gives us that endorsement, that somebody who is looking at mines all over the world is encouraged enough to look at this one. It would be great to get some Scottish backing, but I don't underestimate the challenge."
1948: Born Dundee
1988-93: MD Gencor gold mine, Brazil
1993-96: CEO Engem Exploration & Production
1996-2001: CEO Energy Africa
2007-: Chairman Faroe Petroleum
2009-: Chairman Scotgold Resources
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