Nyrstar shareholders sue commodities trader Trafigura for $1.6 bln

LONDON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Minority shareholders in major zinc producer Nyrstar are seeking 1.48 billion euros ($1.63 billion) in damages from global commodities trader Trafigura over the restructuring of the Belgian firm, the shareholders’ lawyer said on Saturday.

Nyrstar was on the brink of bankruptcy before Trafigura stepped in. The Geneva-based trader has a 24.4% stake in the Belgium-listed firm.

The statement outlines for the first time the total damages sought by the minority shareholders and marks an escalation in the fight for Nyrstar after several months of legal action.

As part of the deal to save Nyrstar, lenders had to write off part of their debt or agree to extended repayment schemes while all the firm’s operating assets were transferred into a new subsidiary called Newco 2 based in the UK, in which Trafigura holds a 98% stake.

The remaining shareholders were then left with a 2% stake in the operating assets through a holding company called Nyrstar NV .

Nyrstar is one of the world’s largest zinc smelting companies with plants across Northern Europe, the United States and Australia. It also has zinc mines in North America.

The shareholders allege that Nyrstar’s board did not pursue profit by acting against its legal duties and committed fraud.

“On the basis ... of fraudulent avoidance of the law provisions regarding liquidation of companies, which require a decision of the general meeting of shareholders,” according to the statement.

As part of the lawsuit, the shareholders will seek to nullify the decisions of Nyrstar’s board that accepted the “lock-up agreement,” or restructuring terms, in April.

As an alternative to cancelling the deal, the shareholders are seeking 980 million euros ($1.08 billion) in compensation from Trafigura.

Nyrstar NV said on Friday it had received an unsolicited offer from Trafigura to buy the 2% stake for 22 million euros ($24.29 million).

Alongside the allegation of fraud, the shareholders allege that Geneva-based Trafigura abused its position as the single largest shareholder since 2015 and will seek 500 million euros ($552 million) in damages.

“On the basis of the abuse of the control (majority) by Trafigura ... resulting in severely unbalanced contracts and expensive overfinancing by which Trafigura gained pledges on Nyrstar assets,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, Belgium’s Financial Services and Markets Authority said it had opened a formal investigation into Nyrstar without providing details.

The shareholders will also seek damages for communication deficiencies.

In an Oct. 8 statement, Trafigura said its contracts with Nyrstar were market based and not the cause of Nyrstar’s financial troubles. ($1 = 0.9059 euro) (Reporting by Julia Payne in London Editing by Matthew Lewis)