Belgium expands probe into zinc miner Nyrstar

Clarksville zinc refinery is located 4 km southwest of Clarksville, Tennessee, US. (Image courtesy of Nyrstar.)

Belgium’s Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) has broadened a probe kicked off in September into zinc firm Nyrstar NV that examines possible ties between the company and Trafigura, the world’s no.2 metals trader.

Initial investigation focused on Nyrstar’s commercial relationship with Trafigura, but now it includes two other aspects

Geneva-based Trafigura took control of Nyrstar in early 2019 as part of a restructuring process that all but wiped out other shareholders. Investors ended up owning stakes in a new firm that controls about 2% of Nyrstar, with Trafigura holding the rest.

Belgium’s financial services regulator first focused the investigation on whether Nyrstar provided sufficient information to shareholders about Trafigura’s offer.

It has now expanded the probe to include two other aspects. “These are the provision of information about the expected profit contribution from and the total costs for the Port Pirie smelter in Australia, and of information about the company’s solvency and liquidity position at the end of 2018,” it said in an earlier statement, updated Wednesday.

Deloitte, which acted as the auditor for Nyrstar, had previously warned that incomplete disclosures relating to supply deals with Trafigura could affect Nyrstar’s financial reports.

Nyrstar’s downfall

The zinc producer’s financial troubles began around 2010, when management embarked on a debt-fuelled spree of mining acquisitions. Prices for the metal dropped by 26% in 2018, leaving the company in no position to make a bond repayment.

Nyrstar said at the time that asset write-downs, “severe deterioration” in the global economy and lower zinc treatment charges were among the reasons for its collapse.

Currently, the firm is the world’s second largest zinc producer and one of the biggest zinc smelting companies. It has operations across northern Europe, the United States and Australia. Its mines are located in North America.