The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) finds itself in troubled waters once again as foreign investor MMCS Strategic 1 has reiterated its stake in the Manono lithium and tin project, accusing the state of expropriation at the same time that fresh sanctions against cabinet officials are looming.

The Manono project, an open-pit mining development in the Tanganyika Province of the DRC, is estimated to be one of the largest lithium-rich LCT (lithium, caesium, tantalum) pegmatite deposits in the world and crucial to the future electronic vehicles sector. It has also been subject to a long dispute and alleged corruption by government officials and Chinese straw man companies to flip ownership of the licenses.

On October 4, the lawyer Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, which represents MMCS Strategic 1, issued a public notice addressed to numerous parties claiming to have an interest in Manono, including AVZ Minerals of Australia, Chinese companies and individuals Zijin Mining Group, CATL, Cong Mao Huai (Simon Cong), and Min Guo Wei, as well as the Congolese state-owned company Cominière.  The public notice was also addressed to Zoe Kabila, an MP and the brother of former President Joseph Kabila, as well as Guy Luando, a currently serving Minister in the government of President Felix Tshisekedi.

“Since this illegal raid was engaged against them in 2016, MMCS has continuously asserted its ownership over Manono through public statements, commercial arbitration, and through direct correspondence,” the MMCS statement reads. “Take notice that until such time as our rights have been vindicated, MMCS possesses true, full and proper title to Manono.”

The statement continues, “MMCS cautions all parties who may be interested in the Manono Project to conduct appropriate due diligence in respect of the claims that any parties other than MMCS are making regarding rights to the Manono Project.”

The public notice of ownership by MMCS’ lawyers adds additional complexity to Manono issue. AVZ Minerals Limited, the Australian company which previously had been publicly promoting its claim to the Manono license and raising capital based on what may not be a proper title, has suspended trading of its shares on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Meanwhile, there have been speculative media reports that corruption-related sanctions could be looming over the Tshisekedi administration, which could become a major headache ahead of the 2023 elections. According to Africa Intelligence, the US treasury has completed its investigation into André Wameso, one of the closest advisers of the DRC president.

According to the public notice, MMCS is the true owner of license PE 12202, which was stripped away by the Congolese government in 2016 by a Ministerial Order which did not provide an explanation for the decision. The following year, another exploitation license for the same area in Manono was then sold to Dathomir Mining Resources, an anonymous company with no operational history run by  Chinese national Cong Mao Huai (aka Simon Cong), a dealmaker known to be close to the Kabila family. Shortly following the acquisition of the license, Dathomir entered a deal with the AVZ Minerals.

AVZ Minerals is currently engaged in arbitration proceedings against a subsidiary of Zijin Mining Group, while MMCS is in arbitration against  Cominière.