UAE conglomerate IHC looking to invest in Zambian copper deal
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UAE conglomerate IHC looking to invest in Zambian copper deal

UAE conglomerate IHC looking to invest in Zambian copper deal

International investors in Africa are in a race to acquire long-term supplies for critical minerals

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Lubambe copper mine - IHC

A unit of International Holding Company (IHC), Abu Dhabi’s most valuable company, is interested in acquiring Zambia’s Lubambe Copper Mine, an asset that China’s JCHX Mining has already agreed to buy, three sources familiar with the details told Reuters.

IHC subsidiary expresses interest

International Resources Holding recently told EMR Capital that it is interested in bidding for the private equity manager’s 80 per cent stake in the Lubambe copper project, which is up for sale, a development that may complicate a sale process that’s already underway, two of the sources said.

The IHC unit’s interest in Lubambe, with potential to be among Zambia’s largest copper mines, comes after Shanghai-listed JCHX, a mine servicing and contracting firm, entered into a deal to buy EMR’s 80 per cent stake in Lubambe in January.

The sale process requires approval from the Zambian government, which is pending and unclear at the moment, one of the sources said.

A source at JCHX, who was in contact with Reuters after publication of the article, said the company was still confident that the deal would be closed. The source declined to be named due to sensitivity around the matter.

The Zambian government owns a 20 per cent stake in Lubambe through state-firm ZCCM-IH.

Race for critical minerals

The IHC unit’s interest is spurred by an aggressive push by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to secure critical metal supply in Africa, as they bid to diversify their economies and engage with energy transition.

Middle East investors are pitted against Chinese companies in Africa, including state backed firms, also aggressively pursuing deals in Africa to strengthen China’s grip on minerals required to power a rapidly expanding domestic electric vehicle manufacturing sector.

EMR Capital’s binding deal agreed directly with JCHX technically precludes it from entertaining any new offers, one of the sources said. Still, EMR is aware that IRH is interested in buying the assets and that the UAE firm has officially informed the Zambian government and ZCCM-IH of its interest, two sources said.

While its interest is now widely known within the Zambian government circles, the UAE firm hasn’t presented a formal offer to EMR on the Lubambe stake, one source said.

EMR declined to comment. IRH and IHC didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions.

IRH has previously staged a last minute buyout of a 51 per cent stake in Zambia’s Mopani Copper Mines last month, its first mining deal in Africa’s second-largest producer of the metal that is key to products from power lines and industrial machinery to electric vehicles.

The Abu Dhabi firm became the Zambian government’s preferred investor for Mopani mines ahead of Sibanye Stillwater SSWJ.J and China’s Zijin Mining Group, which had been short listed for the assets after a protracted selection process.

Cashing out

EMR, which has owned the Lubambe mine since 2017, wants to exit the project as its funds mature, after COVID delayed its development, the sources said. It also sold a 51 per cent stake in adjacent Mingomba copper project for a sizeable amount to California-based start up KoBold Metals. EMR still holds a 28 per cent stake Mingomba, alongside Zambia’s ZCCM.

Lubambe, previously owned by African Rainbow Minerals and Vale, produced about 15,000 tons of copper last year but needs to raise output to about 2,500 tons a month to become sustainable, it says on its website.

JCHX in January said it proposed to pay $1 for EMR’s 80 per cent stake, and another $1 to take over the project’s $857m debt.

Zambia’s ministry of mines did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

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