[SYDNEY] Australian mining tycoon Clive Palmer has been dealt a blow in a long-running court battle with Chinese conglomerate CITIC after a court rejected a A$48 million (S$48.8 million) payment, threatening the collapse of a key nickel refinery.
Mr Palmer's mining firm Mineralogy is locked in a lengthy legal dispute over royalties and port operations with Hong Kong-based CITIC Pacific relating to the Sino Iron project in Western Australia's resource-rich Pilbara region.
CITIC is mining for magnetite iron ore on Mr Palmer's sprawling Mardie Station cattle farm in Pilbara under a 25-year lease.
The two companies have traded barbs over the legal feud, with the flamboyant tycoon and politician blasting members of China's government as "mongrels" last year while a Chinese state-run newspaper labelled his comments as "rampant rascality".
Mineralogy argued in court that if the multi-million-dollar advance on royalties was not granted, Queensland Nickel, which Mr Palmer owns, would "suffer irreparable harm", with hundreds of jobs at risk, highlighting the perilous state of some mining firms as metals prices flounder.
Nickel prices have been hit hard by the global commodities rout, tumbling more than 40 per cent this year to fall to its lowest levels in more than a decade.
But despite the plea, the bid was rejected by the Supreme Court of Western Australia late Monday.
Justice Paul Tottle said that while Mineralogy claimed Queensland Nickel was "experiencing a liquidity crisis" and needed an injection of money to "avoid closure", the refinery's perilous position might be exaggerated.
He added that the request for payment was "highly unusual" given the long-running court case, into what royalties CITIC should be paying Mineralogy, was not yet resolved.
Queensland Nickel director Clive Mensink, who is Palmer's nephew, said in a statement that he had called for an urgent meeting with Queensland state's premier and treasurer, adding that "previous governments have provided support at times of low nickel".
CITIC's Australian spokesman Rob Newton expressed sympathy for the refinery's workers but said his company had paid millions of dollars to Mr Palmer and Mineralogy over the years.
"It's our view that how Mr Palmer chooses to spend this money and how he chooses to manage his other ventures - whether its golf courses, nickel mines, soccer teams, the Titanic 2 or robotic dinosaurs - is a matter for him," he told reporters outside the court Monday night.
Besides his mining and political interests, Mr Palmer is famous for building a full-scale replica of the Titanic and a golf course replete with robotic dinosaurs in Queensland.
CITIC Pacific, which has interests ranging from iron ore mines to property, recently assumed Chinese conglomerate CITIC Group's assets as part of a move to list in Hong Kong.