Glencore Draws Fresh Ire in Congo Over Cobalt-Export Suspension

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government renewed its criticism of a decision by a Glencore Plc unit to halt cobalt shipments.

Glencore-controlled Katanga Mining Ltd. announced Nov. 6 it suspended sales from its Kamoto mine in southeast Congo after detecting levels of uranium too high for export through African ports. Gecamines, the government-controlled mining company that owns 25 percent of Kamoto Copper Co., or KCC, said two weeks ago it wasn’t informed about the decision and had sought an urgent meeting to discuss the issue.

Martin Kabwelulu, the mines minister in the world’s biggest cobalt-producing nation, weighed in on the issue at an unrelated press briefing in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, on Wednesday. Katanga’s decision was taken “unilaterally,” he said.

“How have they found traces of uranium?” Kabwelulu asked, saying there are multiple controls operated by the state between Kamoto and the Congo-Zambian border. “Curiously KCC gets the minerals out to South Africa, does a check there and finds traces of uranium at an incompatible level.”

Kabwelulu said he met senior KCC management three days ago, but failed to get answers to his questions. A spokesman for Glencore declined to comment.

The minister also said Katanga failed to inform Gecamines or the government about plans to build an ion-exchange system at Kamoto to remove uranium, which is expected to cost about $25 million.

Katanga “is currently conducting additional surveys to identify the source of the uranium and exploring various options to mitigate the impact of the sales suspension,” it said in the Nov. 6 statement

KCC, set to become the world’s biggest cobalt mine in 2019, is stockpiling the metal and expects to resume sales before the end of 2019. It continues to produce and export copper.

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