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Glencore and Washington Corp. want to buy Asarco copper mines

LONDON – Switzerland-based Glencore International SA and Montana-based Washington Corporations jointly filed to buy most of the assets of bankrupt U.S. copper miner Asarco LLC, Glencore said Thursday.

“We can confirm that we have filed the papers with the court of Texas,” Glencore spokeswoman Lottie Grenacher said. She declined to provide further details on the offer.

Officials at Phoenix-based Asarco and its parent company, Grupo Mexico SA de CV were unavailable for comment. The company has previously said it hoped to restructure its copper operations after selling off its zinc assets to Glencore last year.

But the filing doesn’t mean the situation is a done deal – talk that other copper producers could also be interested in acquiring the Asarco operations swirled Thursday.

Rio Tinto PLC, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Xstrata PLC all declined to comment, while U.S. producer Phelps Dodge Corp. – currently under offer to be acquired by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. – couldn’t be reached for comment.

Asarco filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. bankruptcy court in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 2005. The company was particularly badly hit by a long strike by unions at its copper operations that year and also said that despite the upturn in commodity prices, it hadn’t recovered fully from a long bear run cycle.

Its copper operations include the 720,000 metric tons a year Hayden smelter in Arizona, and the Ray complex located nearby. Asarco also owns the 360,000 tons a year Amarillo refinery in Texas, the Mission mine in Arizona, and the El Paso plant in Texas, which has the capacity to produce around 120,000 tons of copper anodes a year.

Washington Corporations is part of the Missoula, Mont.-based Washington Companies, a group of privately-held individual companies in which Montana businessman Dennis R. Washington holds a controlling ownership.

The group is already involved in the copper business through Montana Resources, which operates an open pit copper and molybdenum mine in Butte, Mt.

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