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Rio Tinto “parks” iron ore projects after BCL closure

MBONGENI MGUNI
Saving BCL: Kebonang is currently in the UAE negotiating for the sale of the mines
Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest metals and mining corporations, has “parked” its search for iron ore in the southern districts, pending the outcome of liquidation processes around BCL Ltd.

According to available documents, BCL Mine had a joint venture with Rio Tinto, called the Molopo Iron Ore project in south western Botswana, which was valued at US$9 million and held three prospecting licences. In an April 2016 briefing in Gaborone, then BCL Ltd managing director, Dan Mahupela said the project had an in situ “conceptual mineral value” of P293 billion. This week, Rio Tinto’s exploration manager for Southern Africa, Paul Hundt said activities had been suspended on the prospecting licences pending the finalisation of BCL Mine’s liquidation.

“We had one licence under Rio Tinto and we also had a joint venture with BCL Mine under which were three more licences,” he told MmegiBusiness from Johannesburg.

“With what has happened with BCL Mine, we have parked them while waiting for a legal resolution on how to take this forward.

“They are being reconsidered and we will make an announcement to investors at a later date.” The Molopo Iron Ore project was one of several under Polaris II, a BCL Ltd’s diversification strategy under which the group also entered into

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other joint venture arrangements to search for minerals such as manganese and diamonds. Polaris II was established specifically to extend the group’s lifespan after the projected end of reserves at BCL Mine, as well as secure feed for the mine’s prized smelter.

On Tuesday at the High Court, BCL’s fate brightened after lawyers representing the liquidator asked for and received an extension of liquidation proceedings, citing the “urgent need” to conclude talks with an investor interested in snapping up the operations.

Energy, Mineral Resources and Green Technology minister, Sadique Kebonang is in Dubai, from where he announced via social media that he was “saving BCL”.

However, for Rio Tinto, a final solution may be further down the line, as the sorting out of joint ventures will be lower down the priority list for the liquidators and the new owners.

“The fate of exploration licences held in joint ventures will be quite a long way down the line of priorities for the liquidator and no one expects early news from there,” an official close to the latest developments said.



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