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Sir Mick Davis, the former head of mining group Xstrata, has severed ties with Niron Metals, the investment vehicle he co-founded to develop a large iron-ore deposit in Guinea.
According to filings at Companies House, Davis, who was chair of Niron, ceased to be a director this month and is no longer a person with “significant control” of the private company.
Davis, a former chief executive of the Conservative party known as “Mick the Miner”, is one of the most recognised names in the industry, having been finance director of Billiton and chief executive of Xstrata until it was acquired by Glencore in 2013.
After leaving Xstastra he set up X2 Resources, a mining vehicle that secured billions of dollars of commitments from investors but ultimately failed to pull off a deal.
Niron was registered in the UK in 2018 and a year later it was asked to develop the Zogata iron ore deposit by BSGR, the mining group controlled by the family of Israeli diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz.
The agreement was part of a wider deal between BSGR and the government of Guinea that helped end a long-running dispute over mining rights in the resource-rich west African country, where president Alpha Condé was toppled this month in a coup.
The decision by Davis to cut ties with Niron was taken before Condé was overthrown, according to people with knowledge of the situation. They said Davis had come to the view that it could take many years before Niron would be able to secure a route to market for Zogata’s iron ore and that he wanted to focus on other projects.
Early this year Davis launched a fund to invest in battery metals. The vehicle, Vision Blue Resources, made its first investment in February and it also helped launch a $300m special purpose vehicle that listed in New York.
Guinea has some of the world’s highest grade iron ore, including the giant Simandou deposit. But the country has failed to exploit its natural bounty.
A Chinese-backed consortium has started work on a 650km trans-Guinean railway that would link Simandou and potentially other mines to a deepwater port on the coast. However, it could take years to complete.
Niron signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 to transport its iron ore through neighbouring Liberia to the port of Buchanan on an existing railway line used by ArcelorMittal that had spare capacity. It subsequently completed a feasibility study on the Zogota deposit that was delivered to the government of Guinea a year ago.
But plans to export iron ore through Liberia are in doubt. ArcelorMittal and Monrovia recently announced a new mineral development agreement in which the steelmaker would triple iron ore production at its Yekepa mine in Liberia and invest an additional $800m.
Niron said it continued to “explore a sustainable, long-term logistics solution to unlock the full potential of the Zogota project for the benefit of all stakeholders”.
“We thank Sir Mick for his valuable leadership and insight during his time at Niron,” it said. “Sir Mick played an important role in Niron’s development and in catalysing the reassessment of the potential of Guinea’s iron ore industry. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”
Niron’s other directors include Greek fund manager Marcos Camhis and Varda Shine, a former head of diamond trading at De Beers.