Optimum’s return to business frustrated by rival coal mines 

A fresh turf war has broken out -between the board of the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) and Liberty Coal, which owns Optimum Coal Mine (OCM), over coal export allocations belonging to Optimum Coal Terminal (OCT). 

On Friday, Optimum Coal Mine, which had just been recently acquired by Liberty Coal, had planned a jamboree for workers and community stakeholders to relaunch operations at the former Gupta-owned mine. 

But the RBCT board, consisting of big miners with political connections to the current administration, turned out to be the party poopers. 

This was after Liberty Coal last month acquired the assets, business, and compromised liabilities of Optimum mine. The mine is in business rescue, following a protracted court battle with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which sought to attach the collier as state property. 

The NPA argued that the Guptas had purchased the coal mine in 2016 through proceeds of crime. 

During that period, Liberty Coal was the biggest creditor to OCM, with a debt of R1.3-billion. 

But the two reached an out-of-court settlement in which Liberty Coal agreed to pay R462-million. The linked entitlement at RBCT that Optimum mine and OCT historically held in accordance with the adopted business rescue plans was part of the R462-million settlement between Liberty Coal and the NPA. 

When the embattled mine was not operational, big mining companies like Glencore, which are shareholders of RBCT, allegedly used its export allocation to boost their profits. 

The company said this week that the planned relaunch was based on an understanding that all obstacles to the implementation of the business rescue plans had been resolved, and the assets, business, and compromised liabilities of OCM had been transferred to Liberty Coal, and OCT’s entitlement at the RBCT had been transferred to a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Coal. 

“Unfortunately, the board of RBCT – which represents its shareholders, all of whom are competing coal exporters to Liberty Coal, including Seriti, Thungela and Glencore – has refused to register Liberty Coal Terminal in its securities register and accordingly allow it to export coal from the Optimum Mine through the RBCT terminal,” according to a statement from Liberty Coal. 

The company said this was despite previously granted RBCT board approvals and the binding OCT business rescue plan, seemingly to delay the successful re-opening of the Optimum Coal Mine. 

“Any delay significantly prejudices the Optimum Mine, Liberty Coal, and its employees, contractors, and creditors.  

“The only parties who stand to benefit therefrom are RBCT’s other -shareholders, who continue to profit from their use of the allocated rail and port facilities that should now be available to Liberty Coal.” 

Under the circumstances, said the company, it was necessary to postpone the planned re-opening event until the position was resolved “through constructive dialogue or legal proceedings”. 

Liberty Coal  this week said it remained committed to the OCM and to its plans to refurbish and recapitalise the mine for the benefit of all stakeholders. 

“It is unfortunate that Liberty Coal’s competitors wish to delay any access to the crucial port allocation at RBCT historically held by OCT whilst  
imposing unreasonable conditions on Liberty Coal, which can only be described as unfair, anti-competitive, and/or oppressive. 

“These conditions do not appear to have ever formed the basis upon which the previous RBCT board approvals were granted or discussed in relation to the implementation of the OCT business rescue plan, nor the basis of any previous engagements with RBCT,” the company added. 

The RBCT said on Wednesday that Liberty Coal failed to meet a material condition, adding that the company’s media statement contained numerous misstatements and allegations that should be dismissed. 

“The correct position is that Liberty Coal failed to meet a material suspensive condition to its indirect acquisition of the shareholders’ interest in RBCT, including the export entitlement.” 

The RBCT said the condition, known to Liberty Coal since June 2021, required OCM to transfer its business and coal mines in full to Liberty Coal. 

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