WASHINGTON (AP) — A company founded by a London-based banker says it has secured approval to develop gold and copper mining sites in northern Afghanistan.

Centar Ltd. says it will start exploration next year and that the enterprise will be among the largest employers in the troubled country within a year.

Afghanistan’s minister of finance and the acting minister of mines and petroleum were expected to sign contracts Friday with Centar founder Ian Hannam at the embassy in Washington.

Afghanistan is believed to have large reserves of valuable minerals and metals. But war and corruption have prevented the development of a modern mining industry.

Anti-corruption organization Global Witness says civil society groups have raised “serious” concerns about this project including that a former government minister is a partner in the venture.