Zambia mines minister slams Konkola Copper Mines liquidation process

LUSAKA, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Zambia’s mines minister Paul Kabuswe on Monday criticised the previous administration’s push to liquidate Vedanta’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) unit, which sparked years of wrangling between the company and government.

Vedanta and the Zambian government have been in a legal dispute over the mine and smelter since May 2019 when Zambia, which owns 20% of KCM through state mining investment firm ZCCM-IH, handed control of the business to a liquidator.

Kabuswe’s comments, made during a tour of the country’s copperbelt, are a further indication that President Hichilema’s five-week-old administration will seek to roll back state involvement in the mining sector, the engine of Zambia’s economy.

“We must never, ever, bring politics in(to) the private sector,” Kabuswe said in a video of a meeting held at KCM, which circulated widely on social media and was verified by the mines ministry.

“Part of the mess that we are in is because of that liquidation process,” he added.

The state-appointed provisional liquidator Milingo Lungu split KCM into two units, KCM SmelterCo Limited and Konkola Mineral Resources Limited, which he was looking to sell.

But any potential buyers were wary of legal complications, with Vedanta calling the split illegal, and arbitration between Vedanta and Zambia ongoing in London.

Kabuswe, in the filmed comments, said he was disappointed Lungu was not at the meeting at KCM. Lungu told Reuters he had not received any official communication of a meeting taking place on Monday.

Vedanta earlier this month said it wanted to open a dialogue with ZCCM and was committed to investing $1.5 billion into KCM. (Reporting by Chris Mfula in Lusaka; Writing by Helen Reid; Editing by Jan Harvey)