(Recasts to add court case, adds details, background)
LUSAKA, July 17 (Reuters) - Zambia expects nine companies to submit bids for Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) within weeks, mines minister Richard Musukwa said on Wednesday, even as a court case with Mumbai-listed Vedanta over its ownership was underway.
The dispute between the government and Vedanta started in May when Zambia appointed a liquidator to run KCM, which is around 20% owned by Zambia’s state mining company and majority owned by Vedanta, and accused it of breaching its licence.
Vedanta denies that claim and says it will defend its assets in Africa’s second biggest copper producer. It sought an urgent order in South Africa to prevent KCM from being wound up, and Vedanta was arguing its case in a Johannesburg court on Wednesday.
Musukwa told a media briefing he was confident the government could win the case with Vedanta in any country in the world, and that companies from Russia, Turkey, Australia, Canada and China were currently conducting due diligence for potential bids for the KCM business.
“Currently we have about nine companies,” Musukwa said, adding that they had visited KCM.
“The bidding process will start once all the companies have conducted due diligence and we are hoping this can happen within a couple of weeks,” he said.
The case has intensified concerns among international miners about resource nationalism in Africa.
It is one point of contention in a row between Zambia and its powerful mining industry, which has contested new taxes the government has imposed, saying they will stymie investment, push some producers into the red and hit production.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; writing by Emma Rumney; editing by Jason Neely and Louise Heavens