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Chemaf Resources, the troubled Gulf mining group, has hired an adviser to help sell the company and its strategic copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a valuation in the region of $1 billion.

The planned sale of the Dubai-based mining group, whose biggest creditor is global commodities trading house Trafigura, is likely to become a crucial conflict in the fight between the US and China over critical minerals.

The start of a sales process has drawn strong interest from Chinese bidders, according to three people familiar with the matter.

But the U.S. government is also trying to mediate proposals from Western or Middle Eastern investors to prevent the assets from falling into Chinese hands, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Both copper and cobalt are considered key to the clean energy transition as they are essential materials for renewable energy, electric cars and batteries, and other industrial applications.

Washington has stepped up its commitment this year to find ways to counter China’s dominance of Africa’s natural resources as the world’s largest economy seeks to compete in clean energy technologies.

The U.S. government is exploring $250 million in funding for the Lobito Corridor Railway, a key trade route to export goods from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia westward via Angola.

Dubai-based Chemaf needs to invest capital in its business to pay its creditors’ bills and complete projects under construction as falling cobalt prices and rising cost inflation have led to greater losses and increased investment needs.

The company is considering a number of options, with a full sale rather than a partial sale being the company’s preferred option, the three people said.

The group has hired Jeremy Meynert, a former executive at Australian iron ore group Fortescue and a former investment banker at Citi, to lead the sale process. Chemaf declined to comment.

The sale would involve $690 million in debt, of which about $510 million was arranged by a syndicate led by Singapore-based Trafigura, while also fulfilling founder and owner Shiraz Virji’s desire for a Payout was taken into account.

The sale could force Trafigura, which has a contractual commitment to receive all of Chemaf’s future production over the life of the mines, to take a large haircut or adjust its future supply contract, the three people said.

Chemaf’s plight has compounded problems for Trafigura’s metals division, with the group still embroiled in an ongoing court battle over a huge nickel fraud uncovered earlier this year.

Trafigura claimed in February that the company was the victim of a “systematic fraud” that led to a $590 million write-down after it was discovered that supposed shipments of nickel did not contain the valuable metal.

“We support Chemaf’s efforts to complete a successful sales process,” said Daniel von Arx, global head of battery metals at Trafigura.

The company has asked bidders for proposals on how to create value for the Virji family, a settlement with creditors and supply partner Trafigura, and also plans to spend $250 million to $300 million to complete an expansion of its Etoile mine and build its new Mutoshi -Mine to issue Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chemaf aims to produce 75,000 tonnes of copper and 25,000 tonnes of cobalt hydroxide per year once the two mining projects are completed, making them important assets for the DRC government and global supply.

Chemaf was founded in 2001 by Virji, who previously ran a cash-and-carry business in the UK and owns a pharmaceutical export business. It entered the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining sector as it opened up to the private sector when former President Joseph Kabila took office.

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