(Adds details, comments, Oyu Tolgoi details)
By Cameron French
SANTIAGO, April 1 Mining magnate Robert Friedland, who discovered the Voisey's Bay nickel deposit and is currently developing the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold site, said on Wednesday he had uncovered a copper find in the Democratic Republic of Congo that could rank as one of the world's largest.
Speaking at the CRU/CESCO copper conference in Santiago, Friedland said his privately-held Ivanhoe Nickel & Platinum (Ivanplats) unit had struck copper at the Kamoa property in DRC, located just west of the Kolwezi and Tenke-Fungurume mines in the Central African Copper Belt.
"We believe that the Kamoa discovery has the potential to become a super giant orebody, one of the five largest copper deposits ever discovered," said Friedland, who is no stranger to soaring rhetoric, but who also has a resume that indicates a knack for identifying rich metal finds.
Friedland uncovered Voisey's Bay in eastern Canada while searching for diamonds, and ultimately sold it to nickel miner Inco for billions. Oyu Tolgoi, which is located in Mongolia and owned by Friedland-controlled Ivanhoe Mines (IVN.TO), is one of the top copper/gold properties in the world.
Ivanhoe Mines, which is partnered with Rio Tinto (RIO.L), is currently waiting for Mongolia to approve an investment agreement that would allow it to mine Oyu Tolgoi.
Friedland said Mongolia's parliament is expected to consider approval of the agreement next week.
"Next week, the Mongolian parliament will reconvene, and it's announced that one of their first orders of business will be to review, and probably approve, a long-term investment agreement," he said.
Shares of Ivanhoe Mines were up 52 Canadian cents at C$8.30 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The Kamoa announcement comes as some analysts have bemoaned a lack of recent large new copper discoveries, which they predict could lead to a supply crunch when global demand rebounds from the current economic slowdown.
Friedland said Kamoa sits 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) west of the historic Kolwezi mine and about 100 km away from Freeport-McMoRan's (FCX.N) Tenke-Fungurume mine.
The Kamoa deposit also lies beneath a rail line currently under construction connecting the property to Africa's west coast, he said.
He said drilling to date at Kamoa had uncovered mineralization over an 18-km strike length.
"We've currently tested 74 square kilometers of mineralization. The target area is about 1,000 square kilometers, and we're approaching a half a million tonnes of contained copper per square kilometer," he said.
In a statement, Ivanplats said it was in confidential discussions with "a carefully selected number of the world's leading, private and state-owned international mining companies" to form a partnership to develop Kamoa.
Friedland also painted a rosy picture for future copper prices, predicting a falling U.S. dollar and the increasing use of electrified technologies in the auto industry should be positive for the price.
"I'm very optimistic about copper," he told Reuters after his presentation.
"Since copper conducts electricity better than anything else other than gold and silver, which are too expensive, copper wins." (Additional reporting by Reese Ewing; Editing by Marguerita Choy)