A worker poses with a handful of nickel ore at the nickel mining factory of PT Vale, near Sorowako, Indonesia, January 8, 2014. REUTERS/YUSUF AHMAD
A worker poses with a handful of nickel ore at the nickel mining factory of PT Vale, near Sorowako, Indonesia, January 8, 2014. REUTERS/YUSUF AHMAD

Russia’s Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) terminated its agreement for the sale of its African investments with Botswana’s BCL, the mining and refining company that is in a liquidation process, but will continue legal processes for financial claims against the state.

Nornickel, the world’s largest nickel and palladium producer, said on Tuesday it had “terminated an agreement signed in 2014 relating to the sale of its African assets to the Botswana government entity BCL”.

This means BCL is released from its obligations to buy Nornickel's 50% stake in SA’s Nkomati Nickel shared with JSE-listed African Rainbow Minerals, and its assets in Botswana.

“Instead, we will continue to seek damages from BCL for the significant loss Nornickel has suffered as a result of BCL’s failure to honour its obligations,” said Michael Marriott, Nornickel Africa’s CEO.

“We will also continue our claim against the Government of Botswana in respect of its involvement in the reckless trading of BCL,” he said, adding Nornickel wanted a court to declare the state “responsible for the liabilities of the BCL entities”.

The reckless trading claim stems from Nornickel’s contention that BCL and by extension its owner, the Botswana government, knew the company could not possibly afford the transactions and should not have entered the agreements.

The 2014 agreement included the sale of Nornickel’s 85% held Tati Nickel operations in Botswana as well as the stake in Nkomati.

Nornickel was now able to take “decisions regarding Nkomati will be based on market conditions and the asset development strategy”, Marriott said.

Norilsk has accused BCL of “material breaches of the contract” for taking over the Tati Nickel operation but not making a payment. It cited these breaches as the reason to terminate the agreement.

BCL’s liquidators have steadfastly declined to continue the deal around Nkomati, arguing the agreement by SA’s department of mineral resources erred in agreeing to transfer Nornickel’s mining right to BCL because of the Botswana company’s dire financial situation that meant it could not honour its obligations.

BCL, which was a deeply unprofitable business for years propped up by loans from the Botswana government, was placed in court-ordered liquidation in 2016, leading to a series of court challenges and bitter recriminations by Nornickel in an attempt to claim $277m it claimed was owed to it.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za