March 5, 2012 11:41 AM

Aussie Firms Fuel Up on $2.4 Billion Nuclear Powered Takeover

Posted by Brian Baxter

Another day, another deal in the Australian natural resources sector, with the country’s busy law firms among those landing lead advisory roles.

The Am Law Daily reported last week on the recent flurry of mergers and potential combinations being hatched by top Aussie and British firms against the backdrop of a transactional boom in Australia’s energy and mining sectors.

Companies based in China have been particularly keen on extracting value in recent years from natural resource assets Down Under. On Friday, for example, an arm of state-owned China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC) saw its $2.4 billion offer for Perth-based Extract Resources, owner of the world’s fourth-largest uranium deposit, endorsed by Extract’s board.

London-based firm Ashurst is serving as U.S. and U.K. counsel to CGNPC affiliate Taurus Mineral on the Extract offer. (As it happens, Ashurst took another big step toward its proposed 2014 merger with leading Aussie firm Blake Dawson last week. Under a deal approved last year, the firms will combine their Asian operations to form Ashurst Australia in anticipation of finalizing a more formal union in two years time.)

Minter Ellison, another top Aussie firm whose chief executive partner told sibling publication The Asian Lawyer last month that his firm had been approached by several U.S. firms about a potential tie-up, is also advising Taurus on the proposed deal. Minter Ellison has enjoyed a close relationship with Taurus and parent CGNPC, according to Australasian Legal Business.

Capital markets partners Marcus Best and Bart Oude-Vrielink, energy practice head Andrew Thompson, and banking and finance partner Theo Kindynis are leading a team from Minter Ellison’s Melbourne and Perth offices working on the transaction for Hong Kong-based Taurus. Best and Oude-Vrielink were part of a Minter Ellison team representing Sydney-based Gloucester Coal on its $2.7 billion acquisition by Yanzhou Coal Mining, China’s fourth-largest coal miner, earlier this year.

Taurus’s bid for Extract was required under Australian securities laws after the proposed acquirer, a venture of CGNPC and the China-Africa Development Fund, took control of Extract’s largest shareholder, London-based Kalahari Minerals, through a separate $990 million deal that closed earlier this year. Kalahari, advised by London-based LG, owns 42.7 percent of Extract. (China’s Guantao Law Firm represented Taurus on that transaction, along with Ashurst and Minter Ellison.)

Clayton Utz corporate partners Mark Paganin and Matthew Johnson in Perth are leading a team from the top Aussie firm advising Extract on its proposed sale to CGNPC-backed Taurus. Melbourne-based global mining giant Rio Tinto owns 14.2 percent of Extract and has been in talks with the company about combining some of their uranium projects, Reuters reports.

Siobhan Lawrence serves as Extract’s top in-house attorney. British-trained barrister and prominent mining lawyer Inge Zaamwani-Kamwi is a member of Extract’s board.

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