Liberia: Solway Takes Gov’t to Court for ‘Selling’ Its Mining Rights to AML

….Swiss Investor Submits Notice of Arbitration to Gov’t

The government of Liberia is confronting a potential legal battle with the Swiss-based mining company Solway Investment Group (SIG) over the alleged transfer of mining rights to a rival miner. 

On behalf of its Liberian subsidiary, Solway Mining Incorporated (SMI), SIG has submitted a Notice of Arbitration to the Liberian government to address the dispute. 

The arbitration aims to bring a resolution to SIG's iron ore mining rights in Liberia. The arbitration proceedings are scheduled to take place in London and will be administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the company said.

SIG was granted a three-year Mineral Exploration License in 2019 and conducted extensive exploration work, which led to the discovery and delineation of over 1.4 billion tons of economically viable iron ore in a valuable location. Following this, SIG and SMI entered into negotiations with the Government of Liberia to finalize a Mineral Development Agreement, paving the way for production to commence.

However, it appears that while negotiations were ongoing between the Government of Liberia and SIG, the same license area was also promised to ArcelorMittal, a major foreign investor in Liberia. 

In mid-2023, an agreement was reached between the Ministry of Mines and Energy and ArcelorMittal that terminated SIG's mining rights and transferred them to ArcelorMittal without fair compensation.

“These actions allegedly violate Liberian and international investment laws,” said a release from SIG. “SIG attempted to engage in discussions with the Liberian government but received no response, leading to the submission of a Notice of Arbitration.”

About two months ago, reports emerged in Nimba that ArcelorMittal had taken over the concession of Solway Mining, which was conducting exploration on two mountains in northern Nimba. 

The agreement, as the Daily Observer has learned, was signed last week, leading to ArcelorMittal deploying a team of geologists and equipment to immediately start work at the new concession.

The Solway concession contains two mountains, including Mounts Bleh and Delton, all situated in Zor and Gbar forest—a community forest near the East Nimba Nature Reserve. 

Prior to losing its mining rights, Solway Mining consistently received praise from the project-impacted communities for prioritizing their welfare but left the communities in limbo concerning the apparent sale of its concession to ArcelorMittal, which has had problems with local welfare issues.

Since reports surfaced of ArcelorMittal taking over the Solway Mining concession, there has been unrest and opposition from affected communities and critics. Africa Intelligence Magazine reported in September this year that President George Weah withdrew licenses from Solway Mining and transferred them to ArcelorMittal.

“Solway Mining Company, which was about to launch its iron ore project, has lost its assets to Arcelor MITTAL, which is strengthening its grips on iron ore production and its rail line monopoly to the detriment of Friedland’s U.S. company HPX.” The Pan-African magazine said in its Sept. 29, 2023 edition. HPX is another mining company whose concession area is located at the head of the Nimba mountain range in Guinea. 

However, the only viable way to extract the iron ore and get it to the world market is via rail through Liberia’s port of Buchanan. Though the Republic of Liberia and the Republic of Guinea signed a memorandum of understanding for access to the Yekepa-Buchanan railway to extract the ore when the time comes, ArcelorMittal has been fighting for a monopoly of the sovereign asset which could effectively increase its leverage over all iron ore holdings in the region.

The Weah administration reportedly transferred Solway’s mining licenses to ArcelorMittal before the launch of his election campaign.  ArcelorMittal has previously expressed concerns about Solway's presence in the Nimba Mountain area and encroachment on its concession areas. The government has been urged by ArcelorMittal not to enter into agreements with Solway Mining and other third parties related to mining operations.