Tesla lithium supplier Kidman settles ownership row over Australian mine

MELBOURNE – Kidman Resources, a supplier of lithium to U.S. electric car maker Tesla said on Monday it had settled a court dispute that could have derailed joint development of a mine in Western Australia with Chile's SQM.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Kidman did not specify terms. Court documents show the settlement was reached with private company Phoenix Rise and Jeffrey Hull, a retired geologist.

The settlement unlocks payments by SQM that had been on ice during the dispute, and paves the way for development to get back on track

Phoenix Rise and Hull had separately flagged that not enough had been invested enough in the Mount Holland site under government regulations before Kidman acquired it, and applied for the tenement holdings to be forfeited to them.

"This settlement resolves this matter completely," Kidman Chief Executive Martin Donohoe said in a statement which described the settlement sum as "not material".

Phoenix Rise could not be reached for comment and Hull declined to comment.

The settlement unlocks payments by SQM that had been on ice during the dispute, and paves the way for development to get back on track. Kidman signed a deal to supply Tesla in May for when its operations are up and running in 2021.

The dispute centred on how little money had been spent on the exploration holdings to develop them, prior to Kidman's purchase of the site in early 2016. The mine is being developed by Covalent Lithium, a 50-50 joint venture between Kidman and SQM.

Kidman bought the right to develop the lithium tenements for $3.5 million in early 2016. A year later, SQM invested $110 million into the project to produce lithium carbonate and hydroxide for batteries used in electric vehicles.

Under a Western Australian state law to discourage land banking, if a leaseholder has not spent a mininum amount on exploration, another party can petition for the land holding to be forfeited.

Shares in Kidman Resources traded up 7 percent at $1.43 by 0328 GMT.

(By Melanie Burton; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)