Norilsk Nickel sues Botswana over thwarted mine stake deal

The Russian miner wants to recover $271 million it lost when a state-backed company failed to complete agreement.

Russia’s Norilsk Nickel is suing the government of Botswana in an attempt to recover about $271 million it lost when a state-backed mining company walked away from a deal to buy its stake in a South African mine last year.

Move comes as Botswana's state-run BCL Group pulled out a deal to acquire 50% of Norilsk’s Nkomati nickel mine, in South Africa.

In 2014, Botswana's state-run BCL Group agreed to buy 50% of the Nkomati nickel mine and 85% of Tati Nickel Mining Co., located in Botswana, from Norilsk Nickel, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of the metal, for $337 million. But in October last year, BCL pulled out of the deal, citing lack of funds.

The Russian miner claims that since BCL has historically relied on financial support from the government of Bostwana to survive and, in view of the state-own firm’s financial position, it was clear that “most if not all of the funding for the Nkomati deal would have to come from or be guaranteed by the government,” Norilsk Nickel Africa CEO Michael Marriott said in a statement.

"The government has displayed a complete disregard for the fair, frank and reasonable dealing with outsiders which BCL's insolvent circumstances demanded," Marriott added.

Norilsk had filed a previous lawsuit in December 2016 against BCL, claiming the group had failed to honour its obligations under the sale agreement.

The outcome of this legal battle may change the positive perception investors have of Botswana.  The latest survey by Canadian think-tank Fraser Institute ranked the country as the top mining investment destination in Africa, and 12th of 104 governments globally for the stability of its policies. The country was placed behind only Western Australia on regulatory certainty.