DRC miner cuts cobalt deal with Belgian tycoon

2018-05-03 17:29
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The state mining firm in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gecamines, and Belgian multi-millionaire businessman George Forrest have announced the settlement of a dispute that has stalled cobalt production.

At a time of high global demand for cobalt and copper, notably to make rechargeable batteries and provide super alloys to the aviation industry, the two parties on Wednesday jointly announced a deal on the exploitation of a vast slag heap at Lubumbashi, the main city in the Katanga region.

The dispute concerned management of metallurgical waste in the slag built up during previous mining operations. This waste is taken by the Groupement du Terril de Lubumbashi (GTL, Lubumbashi Slag Heap Consortium) to be turned into a white alloy containing cobalt and copper.

However, the electric furnace in the biggest smelting plant in Africa is in need of repairs to produce the alloy, which is shipped to a cobalt treatment plant at Kokkola in Finland.

Under the agreement, GTL transfers full ownership of the Lubumbashi plant to Gecamines, which undertook to repair the furnace.

Gecamines hands over its 30% share in GTL to the Forrest Group, which hitherto held 70%, the joint statement said. The Congolese state firm will also pay a compensatory indemnity to GTL.

The Forrest Group transfers its holdings in a Congolese subsidiary processing the slag to Gecamines, under the deal, which reconciles two giants of the Congolese economy.

Forrest, 78, was born in Lubumbashi under Belgian colonial rule and has always been close to the vast central African country. Between 1999 and 2001, he served as the head of Gecamines.

He is one of the richest people in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated fortune of $800m.

The smelting plant at the heart of the "transactional agreement" produces about 5 500 tons of cobalt per year, with 3 500 tons of copper, according to a member of GTL staff.

The slag mountain in the south-eastern city consists of copper treatment residues accumulated between 1924 and 1992, with an estimated weight overall of 14.5 million tons.

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