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Gwede Mantashe weighs into BCL, Norilsk battle

MBONGENI MGUNI
Mantasha is considering BCL's appeal
South African mineral resources minister, Gwede Mantashe has reportedly requested BCL Mine and Norilsk Nickel to shelve their court battle over a US$271 million deal, and wait for his decision.

The October 2014 deal involved BCL purchasing Norilsk’s assets which included a 50% stake in Mpumalanga mine, Nkomati Nickel, as well as Tati Nickel Mine near Francistown. Payment would be made once several regulatory conditions were concluded, the last of which was the transfer of Nkomati mining rights to BCL, by South African mining authorities.

Norilsk Nickel has since filed several suits against BCL demanding payment.

Nigel Dixon-Warren, BCL Mine’s liquidator, has laid a case in Johannesburg arguing that the 2014 contract is null and void, as the last condition for it to come into effect, should not have been effected. Effectively, the SA Mines minister incorrectly approved the transfer of mining rights as BCL had not demonstrated the necessary financial capacity to take up the rights.

This week, it emerged that Mantashe, had given both parties until October 15 to accept his attempt to resolve the matter. Mantashe wants to consider Dixon-Warren’s March 2017 appeal to his ministry which lay unattended under the minister’s predecessor. The BCL liquidator told Mmegi they had consented to Mantashe’s intervention, but had not withdrawn the case before the courts there.

“The minister’s attorney contacted us both and asked if we could defer the court process until the minister had heard our appeal.

“We were aware from last year when we filed that appeal that minister’s did not generally attend to them, which is why we went to court.

“The new minister (Mantashe) has said he wants to study the appeal, which is good news for us because the appeal is what we are seeking in our case.

“We expect the minister to see that the conditions for granting that approval were invalid,” Dixon-Warren said.

The liquidator said it appeared Mantashe wished to stop the case from going to court,

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where his ministry would also be required to participate as the authorising entity.

“Our court case is getting to the point where the judge will be ready to hear the matter. We would prefer that the minister make his decision first, because that could potentially conclude our legal matter.

“In the meantime, we are not withdrawing our matter,” Dixon-Warren said. Norilsk Nickel officials were unavailable for comment by Press time, while Mantashe’s aides did not return requests for comment. Following the closure of BCL Mine in 2016, Norilsk Nickel attempted to open arbitration against BCL Mine in London for the recovery of a US$271 million claim involving the sale of the Russian giant’s African assets to the local group. In Gaborone, Norilsk Nickel has a reckless trading suit outstanding against BCL directors and government to the effect that their misgovernance caused the closure of the Mine and the subsequent failure of the US$271 million deal.

Earlier this year, government shelved plans to settle Norilsk’s claim for P522 million. The BCL’s liquidator says the 2014 deal was riddled with irregularities and a settlement could essentially be the “extortion” of funds from Botswana.

“My lawyers reviewed the entire contract and found that approval for the transfer of mining rights should not have been granted by the Mines Minister in South Africa, based on the information he had before him,” Dixon-Warren told Mmegi earlier this year.

“The record showed that the decision was not correct and we have told the court that the approval granted was unlawful, meaning the conditions precedent were not fulfilled.

“The contract is void and cannot go for arbitration or anything else. It means the contract never existed.”



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