CONAKRY, July 4 (Reuters) – Guinea’s mines minister has ordered all work related to the Simandou iron ore mine project to be halted after the two companies involved missed an extended deadline to agree on a joint venture, a letter seen by Reuters showed on Monday.
Rio Tinto RIO.L’s Guinea subsidiary Simfer SA and Chinese-backed consortium Winning Consortium Simandou (WCS) have shown a “lack of willingness” to work on a partnership, Mines Minister Moussa Magassouba said in the letter addressed to both companies, which was dated July 3.
“Despite the significant concessions the Guinean State has been kind enough to make, it is clear the obstruction is being maintained by both your companies, to the detriment of the interests of the project,” Magassouba wrote.
Magassouba said the halt would apply across the country, effective from 8:00 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) on Monday. Neither Rio Tinto nor WCS immediately replied to a request for comment on the latest stoppage.
Guinea’s ruling junta suspended construction of the mine and related infrastructure once before, in March, resulting in Rio and WCS signing a framework agreement that month under which they would “co-develop” infrastructure for the mine, including a 670-kilometre railway and a port.
The March framework agreement guaranteed the state 15% of the Simandou iron ore as well as a free and non-dilutable 15% stake in the railway and port joint venture, the government has said.
The mines minister said Rio and WCS were stalling over the terms of the government’s stake in the joint venture, blaming the companies for “inertia” on this issue.
Rio Tinto has held rights to Simandou since 1997. Through Rio Tinto Simfer, it owns a 45.05% stake in the southern half, Blocks 3 and 4, of the deposit, with Aluminium Corp of China (Chinalco) holding 39.95% and Guinea’s government the remaining 15%.
WCS holds Blocks 1 and 2 of Simandou.
(Reporting by Saliou Samb and Helen Reid; Editing by Estelle Shirbon, Jason Neely and Jan Harvey)