October 21, 2018 / 7:21 PM / 25 days ago

Nutrien vows to 'protect interests' over threat to SQM sale: paper

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Canada’s Nutrien, whose attempt to sell its stake in Chilean lithium miner SQM to China’s Tianqi has been stalled by a row about competitive risks, vowed to “protect its interests” in an interview with a Chilean newspaper published on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Managers meet on a hill at the SQM nitrates plant in Coya Sur next to Maria Elena town, northern of Chile, October 13, 2016. Picture taken October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

Michael Webb, the executive vicepresident of fertilizer company Nutrien (NTR.TO), accused Julio Ponce, SQM’s SQMa.SN SQM_pb.SN largest shareholder, of prioritizing “personal benefit” by asking a court to block the $4 billion deal.

“As an SQM shareholder, we want nothing but the best for the company,” he told El Mercurio. “If Mr Ponce takes action that harms us and any other shareholder, we will look to protect ourselves.” He did not elaborate.

The sale of Nutrien’s 24 percent stake in SQM was approved by Chile’s antitrust regulator, with some conditions to curb Tianqi’s 002466.SZ influence.

But former SQM chairman Ponce, via his investment firm Pampa Group, has said that the deal would still give Tianqi, a top competitor, “unrestricted access” to “confidential and sensitive information.”

Webb said he will attend a Constitutional Court hearing into the case on Monday, which will be closely watched by those invested in lithium, one of the world’s hottest commodities and a key component of electric car batteries.

He said the sale was “in the best interests of SQM” and expressed hope that the deal could close by the end of year.

Nutrien has been required by Indian and Chinese regulators to offload its SQM share by April, following its merger with a rival fertilizer company.

Webb accused Ponce of using the Chilean courts “for his personal benefit” to maintain his dominance of SQM.

“Acting in your own interests in these matters means you are prejudicing (shareholder) investments and that is unfortunate. I would urge him to look beyond himself,” he said.

Neither Nutrien or Ponce responded to a request for comment.

Reporting by Aislinn Laing, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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