Chinese mining company CMOC – China Molybdenum Co Ltd – has been ordered to halt vital exports of cobalt from its vast operations in central Africa in an ongoing squabble over royalties.
An administrator appointed by a court in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to run the world’s second-largest cobalt mine told CMOC to suspend marketing as well as production.
But CMOC spokesman Vincent Zhou said the Chinese mining company had not received any letters from the administrator and that production and exports were continuing as normal.
CMOC says the Tenke Fungurume Mining (TFM) operation remains under its control despite the February court order, whose implementation Congo’s justice minister lifted a stay on last month.
The letters, dated June 29 and July 1, mark the latest escalation in a dispute between the Chinese mining company, which owns 80% of TFM, and the DRC’s state-owned mining company Gecamines, which holds the remaining 20%.
‘Understating’ Cobalt Reserve Levels
The DRC government said it suspects CMOC understated reserve levels to reduce the amount of royalties it pays to Gecamines. CMOC denies the allegation.
Gecamines and Congo’s mines ministry were not immediately reachable for comment.
In the June 29 letter, addressed to CMOC’s board, the provisional administrator wrote that the terms for the marketing of TFM’s production in 2022 had not been met.
The letter ordered CMOC to share all the information regarding its marketing and exports since January 1 within 24 hours and told CMOC to stop marketing and exporting products from TFM in the interim.
In the July 1 letter, the provisional administrator ordered Congo’s customs authority to implement suspension of TFM’s exports. TFM produced 18,501 tonnes of cobalt and 209,120 tonnes of copper in 2021.
In an interview with the China Global South Project’s French-language publication, China’s ambassador to the DRC said Beijing is closely following the dispute between Gecamines and CMOC and “making sure the rights of Chinese companies are respected”.
“We must encourage the two companies to maintain a dialogue … without using the apparatus of the state or resorting to brutal methods,” Zhu Jing said.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell