(Adds Gecamines response)
By Aaron Ross
KINSHASA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - The prime minister of Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday that Freeport McMoRan’s sale of its majority stake in the Tenke copper project to China Molybdenum should be swiftly concluded despite objections from state miner Gecamines.
“I strongly hope this involvement (by China Moly) will be rapidly put in place and see no obstacle preventing it,” Matata Ponyo Mapon said in a statement.
Gecamines, which holds a 20 percent stake in Tenke, one of the world’s largest copper mines, said last month that it had challenged the $2.65 billion sale, announced in May, at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris to assert a right of first offer.
In response to Matata’s statement, Gecamines chairman Albert Yuma said that the prime minister does not have the right to intervene in the matter and that Gecamines would continue to pursue arbitration.
“As long as the rights of Gecamines are not respected, THERE WILL BE NO DEAL,” Yuma wrote in a text message to Reuters.
Freeport denies that Gecamines has a right to pre-empt the sale to China Moly. 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.
Congo’s mines minister said last week that the government supports the deal but that Gecamines’ rights must be respected.
But Matata offered unconditional support for the deal, saying it represents “the best and most certain solution for the Congolese workers and their families”, referring to China Moly as “a solid partner” for the heavily indebted Gecamines. (editing by Jason Neely and Alexandra Hudson)