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Dec. 2000

Having won control of Ashton Mining, Rio Tinto is hungry for control of two Canadian mining firms, possibly facing further showdowns with De Beers, which lost Ashton and the resulting control of the Argyle mines. Rio Tinto won out the battle for Ashton after raising it’s offer in the eleventh hour and purchasing the Malaysian Mining Corp’s stake in the Australian mining company. Though Rio’s second bid, at $2.20 per share, came in less than De Beers’ $2.28 bid, De Beers ran into delays getting clearance from the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board. The clinching of the deal means that the Argyle mines, which produce smaller, low quality stones primarily for the American mass market, remains free from De Beers’ global sales cartel. With Rio Tinto assuming control of the Ashton shares in the mine, Argyle’s independent marketing company will remain distributor of Argyle stones–a lucrative prize that De Beers had hoped to capture. With the Ashton battle now behind them, the world’s two largest diamond miners–De Beers and Rio Tinto, are both reportedly eyeing a 25% stake in Canada’s Ekati mines and the Canadian mining firm Aber Diamond Corporation. Aber’s assets include a minority stake in the Snap Lake diamond project, the majority of which is controlled by De Beers, and a minority stake in Canada’s Diavik Diamond Mine, where Rio Tinto has the controlling share. In Canada’s northwest territories, meanwhile, a 25% share in BHP’s Ekati mine is on the block after owner Dia Met announced itself for sale in October. While De Beers had announced that it was not interested in acquiring Dia Met, analysts speculate on a possible change of heart after De Beers lost the Ashton deal to Rio Tinto. Another probable contender in the chase for Dia Met is BHP, which has a controlling interest in Ekati. Ekati, which came into full production last summer, accounts for about 5% of world diamond production, producing high quality stones.Dia Met is on the market after two of its largest shareholders announced they were seeking a buyer for their 38% stake in the company.

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