Mozambique grapples with coltan controversy

Mozambique is having a hard time shaking-off controversy in its mining sector.

The government has recently managed to dispatch a lawsuit by veteran German coltan trader Karl Heinz Albers, who sued for the rights to mine Morrua—the

country’s flagship tantalum concession.

Tantalum is a precious metal also known as columbite-tantalite or coltan.

Sources close to Albers’ court case at a closed administrative tribunal in Maputo said this week that his company—Companhia Mineira de Morrua (CMM)—had “lost its case” against the government to have his previous ownership of the rights reinstated.

The case has been seen as a litmus test of how the government is handling foreign investment in the country’s post-socialist economic environment.

Morrua is prized for its large reserves of tantalum—a metal that is highly sought-after by manufacturers of everything from electronics equipment to nuclear reactor parts and dental instruments.

Swiss-based mining firm Highland African Mining Company (HAMC) legally owns the rights to the concession.

Albers lost the rights after he failed to meet conditions set by his mining license. He then sued the Mozambican Ministry of Mineral Resources to have them reinstated, delaying HAMC’s development of the mine.

“The fact that they’ve ruled in favour of the ministry means that any doubts about Highland’s access to the Morrua license are now gone,” said a source close to the company.
“They are now free to develop the concession.”

The ruling by an administrative tribunal comes after a lower court said Standard Bank Mozambique could attach CMM assets to recover a 2,6-billion meticais loan (about R700 000).

A sheriff who attempted to serve a summons on CCM found the company’s Maputo premises “closed and abandoned”, according to a source in Maputo.

Highland officials declined to comment on the matter, saying only that they are awaiting official confirmation of a ruling from the Mozambican government.

Mozambican officials have been eager to resolve the Morrua issue. Highland has already invested more than $20-million in the state-of-the-art Marropino mining operation in the country’s central Zambezia province. - I-Net Bridge