Congo court suspends hearing on Glencore-owned cobalt mine

A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo suspended a hearing about a lawsuit brought by a former shareholder of a Glencore Plc-owned cobalt and copper mine.

The case was put on hold pending a decision by the country’s Court of Appeal on whether the High Court should have jurisdiction over the case, Judge Roger Songambele said at the court Monday in the capital, Kinshasa.

Congolese-American businessman Charles Brown, a founding shareholder of Glencore’s Mutanda Mining Sarl, has accused Glencore Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg and two other people of arranging the fraudulent sale of his shares to the Swiss company and is demanding $1.14 billion in compensation and damages. The three men were ordered in March to appear at the hearing.

Glasenberg, Aristotelis Mistakidis, head of Glencore’s copper-trading business, as well as former Mutanda shareholder Alex Hayssam Hamze, didn’t attend Monday’s hearing.

Glencore declined to comment on Monday, but last month said Brown’s allegations are “vexatious and baseless” and “have been rejected on numerous occasions by various courts in the DRC.” Hamze has denied the allegations. Between 2006 and 2013, Brown repeatedly tried and failed to enforce his claims against Hamze and Glencore.

Lawyers representing Hamze challenged the High Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case on June 12 and a Court of Appeal in Kinshasa has fixed the hearing for July 10. There is “serious reason to fear the partiality of the judges,” Hamze’s counsel argued on June 12, according to court filings, noting that one of Brown’s lawyers is “a well-known political personality.”

The law firm of Tharcisse Matadiwamba, a serving lawmaker in the ruling coalition of President Joseph Kabila, is part of Brown’s legal team. Norbert Nkulu stopped working for Brown in May, when Kabila nominated him to Congo’s Constitutional Court. Glasenberg and Mistakidis are represented by a law firm belonging to Azarias Ruberwa, the minister of decentralization and Congo’s vice president from 2003 to 2006.

The Court of Appeal’s decision will determine whether the case returns to the same High Court, or is sent elsewhere.

Delaying tactic

“It changes nothing,” Camille Kos’isaka, one of Brown’s lawyers, said at the court on Monday. “We can go anywhere. They are delaying.”

Before suspending the hearing, Songambele rejected arguments by the counsels of Glasenberg, Mistakidis and Hamze that their clients had not been properly summoned to Monday’s hearing.

Glasenberg “has a case here and he can no longer contest it,” Kos’isaka said. “Today his lawyers came to represent Glasenberg. He can no longer do it the same way.”

Until last month, Glencore was fighting three lawsuits in Congo that called into question the commodity trader’s control of its prized copper and cobalt mines. Two were resolved in June.