Glencore and Trafigura caught in Katanga tangle

Diamond mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Congolese workers search for rough diamonds Kangambala mine in Lunged, in the south west region of Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the heart of the diamond mining area in the DRC, August 9, 2015. Diamond buyers and manufacturers in the west are trying to find a way to make the diamond industry cleaner and more responsibly-sourced, in order to combat human rights abuses, child labor, the degradation of the environment, and unfair trade practices. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Images Reportage for Time Magazine)

The elections scheduled in 2017 to determine Congo-K president Joseph Kabila’s successor are disrupting the country’s economy. The unsettling climate is taking its toll on trading firms Glencore and Trafigura, who dominate copper and cobalt trading in Katanga.

Trafigura settles its accounts with Katumbi’s ghost •

For several months, Trafigura has been grappling with a latent dispute with its former Congolese sub-contractor NB Mining, a mining services firm founded by former presidential candidate Moise Katumbi, and bought in November 2015 by French firm Necotrans. When Katumbi was governor of Katanga, Anvil Mining, now majority controlled by Trafigura (AMI 370), operated the Kapulo copper mine with NB. At the beginning of 2016, just as Katumbi was appointed the presidential candidate by Joseph Kabila’s opposition, Anvil shelved its Kapulo project without acquitting all its accounts outstanding with NB. Right after, NB sought redress against Trafigura.

On May 2, the Lubumbashi court authorized Anvil’s accounts to be seized for NB to recover $1.2 million. In mid-March, the Pweto court had already validated an initial seizure of equipment on Anvil’s permits, which owns the copper and silver mines Kapulo and Dikulushi, in light of NB’s claim for an initial debt of $2.6 million. In the end, Trafigura was able to pay the sum owed to NB. Contacted by Africa Mining Intelligence, Trafigura did not replied.

Glencore attacked from the rear •

While his challengers are busy building up their mining networks, Kabila has been let down by his main supporters in the industry, notably Dan Gertler (AEI 790). To make up for these defections, the Congolese state is trying to herald in new actors. Shamrock Global Group, headed by James McCormack, has been in talks for several months with state-owned firm Gecamines to process part of the Lubumbashi tailings. While it seeks out new allies, Gecamines blocked its long-standing partner, George Forrest International (GFI) from accessing its concession on another part of the tailings in late March. GFI responded by pressing charges against the state-owned firm. A first hearing will be held on May 11 at the Commercial Court of Brussels. GFI will be represented by lawyers Caroline Daout and Maxim van Buggenhout from DLA Piper.

To justify blocking its associate’s activities, Gecamines claims that, since operations first began in 2001, GFI has produced 82,387 t of cobalt, while production was capped at 75,000 t in the original contract. For its part, GFI does not acknowledge the existence of this global cap and claims that by the end of 2016 it had produced 64,478 t.

If the situation is not resolved quickly STL’s transformation unit will soon run out of tailings meaning the furnace will be forced to shut down, and in turn directly impact Glencore’s operations, who has purchased output since 2015. It could be costly and time-consuming to get the plant back up and running as the metals solidify once the furnace cools and some of the equipment may need changing.

Chinese groups prepare ambush •

Several Chinese groups are using the general confusion as their moment to pounce. China Molybdenum Co, who bought 56% of the Tenke Fungurume copper project (AMI 382), also has a trading affiliate.

*Africa Mining Intelligence

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