(Adds Gecamines response)
KINSHASA, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s mines minister said on Thursday that the government “salutes and supports” China Molybdenum Co’s bid to buy Freeport McMoRan’s majority stake in the giant Tenke copper project despite objections from state miner Gecamines.
The statement by Martin Kabwelulu appeared to be an effort to smooth passage of the transaction after Gecamines said last week that it had challenged the deal at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris to assert a right of first offer.
However, Kabwelulu’s statement cautioned that the $2.65 billion deal for Freeport’s 56 percent stake, agreed to in May, must respect the rights of Gecamines, which holds a 20 percent stake in Tenke, one of the world’s largest copper mines.
“The Government is favourable to the conclusion of the sale ... but in respect of the rights of Gecamines, in order to permit the country to construct a long-term, win-win partnership with this Chinese company,” Kabwelulu said.
Freeport and China Moly could not be reached for comment.
Gecamines’ interim director general, Jacques Kamenga, told Reuters he welcomed Kabwelulu’s demand that the company’s rights be respected. Gecamines says it has a right to pre-empt the sale to China Moly, a claim Freeport rejects.
Toronto-based Lundin Mining, which owns the remaining 24 percent of the mine, has until Nov. 15 to exercise its right of first offer, after which Freeport says the sale to China Moly will go through.
“It goes without saying that if China Moly, Freeport and Lundin ask Gecamines to give up its right of pre-emption and approve the transaction, appropriate commercial discussions among all the concerned parties must take place,” Kamenga said.
Gecamines said last month it had submitted an offer to buy Freeport’s stake without revealing any details.
Democratic Republic of Congo, which mined nearly 1 million tonnes of copper last year, is Africa’s top producer of the metal and also extracts significant quantities of gold, diamonds, cobalt and tin. (Reporting By Aaron Ross, editing by David Evans and Cynthia Osterman)