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Asarco could net $6B through lawsuit award

A federal judge in Texas has ordered a subsidiary of mining giant Grupo Mexico SAB to return stock in a Peruvian mining company once owned by Tucson-based copper miner Asarco LLC, now going through bankruptcy reorganization.

An attorney and company officials said the damages award to Asarco – including the return of stock – was valued at more than $6 billion.

In his order Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen directed lawyers for both sides in the civil lawsuit brought by Asarco to draft a judgment including the return of 54 percent of the stock in Southern Peru Holdings and damages worth about an additional $1 billion.

Hanen issued an opinion in favor of Asarco in August, finding that Grupo Mexico subsidiary Americas Mining Corp. was liable for a fraudulent transfer in the March 2003 sale of Southern Peru Holdings LLC stock from Asarco.

He also ruled that Americas was liable for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty to Asarco creditors, as well as for civil conspiracy under Arizona law.

Asarco was bought by Grupo Mexico in 1999.

Mexico City-based conglomerate Grupo Mexico subsequently arranged a transaction to acquire Asarco’s majority position in Southern Peru.

It created a subsidiary of Asarco called Southern Peru Holding Co. to which it had Asarco transfer its 54 percent ownership of Southern Peru stock.

Then, Grupo Mexico formed Americas Mining Corp., another subsidiary into which it transferred Asarco’s stock.

In its lawsuit brought two years ago, Asarco asserted that Grupo Mexico’s spinoff of the valuable Peruvian assets left Asarco with mounting debt and a shortage of cash. Asarco was also stuck with numerous environmental remediation liabilities in the U.S. Its situation worsened when miners went on strike in 2005, forcing it to file for bankruptcy.

In Houston, G. Irvin Terrell, Asarco’s lead trial lawyer, said he and his colleagues “are delighted for Asarco and its creditors. Judge Hanen gave us full relief and that will help the EPA and a number of states in the West clean up environmental sites.”

“Justice has ultimately prevailed,” Asarco’s president and chief executive, Joseph Lapinsky, said in a statement. “This award is for the benefit of Asarco’s creditors in the bankruptcy and should assist the company in its efforts to successfully emerge from Chapter 11 in the coming months.”

Attorneys for Americas Mining Corp. did not return calls immediately.

India-based Sterlite Industries Ltd. agreed to buy Asarco’s operating assets for $1.1 billion in cash, plus $600 million payable over nine years, last month. That is a substantially reduced price from Sterlite’s offer last year of $2.6 billion – made before the price of copper plummeted.

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