* First Quantum sends $72-per-share offer to shareholders
* Company says deal to create "new global leader in copper"
* Shares of Inmet up 0.79 percent at C$72.82 on TSX
* Shares of First Quantum fall 1.3 percent to C$21.26
TORONTO, Jan 9 (Reuters) - First Quantum Minerals Ltd on Wednesday officially launched a hostile takeover bid for smaller rival Inmet Mining Corp, as the Canadian base metal miner looks to transform itself into a top global copper producer.
First Quantum mailed its C$72-a-share offer to Inmet's shareholders, starting the clock on the takeover that values the smaller company at some C$5.1 billion ($5.17 billion).
Inmet's shares climbed 0.79 percent to C$72.82 on Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange, while First Quantum's stock was down 1.3 percent at C$21.26.
If successful, the deal would give First Quantum control of the Cobre Panama copper project in Central America, which is one of the world's largest undeveloped copper deposits.
A combination with Inmet would also create one of the world's largest and fastest-growing copper-focused producers, while easing First Quantum's dependence on Africa and particularly Zambia.
The First Quantum offer will be open until Feb. 14, 2013, unless extended or withdrawn, and is contingent on a minimum take up of 66-2/3 percent of outstanding shares, along with regulatory approvals.
Nearly 40 percent of Inmet is held by only four shareholders, including holding company Leucadia National Corp and a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings Pvt Ltd, the Singapore sovereign wealth fund.
First Quantum is being advised on the deal by Jefferies International, Goldman Sachs and RBC Capital Markets.