Activists confront Lynas boss at company AGM

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Activists from Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas (SMSL) confronted Lynas chairperson Nick Curtis at the Australian company's annual general assembly (AGM) in Sydney today, after Curtis told shareholders that the controversial rare earths refinery in Gebeng will start processing the rare minerals next month.

SMSL in a statement issued this afternoon said some shareholders at the AGM doubted the announcement and quizzed Curtis on Lynas’ plan - should the current Malaysian government be voted out in the next general election.

However, Curtis evaded the questions, saying that it was inappropriate for him to answer hypothetical questions during the AGM, the SMSL statement said.

After SMSL spokesperson Tan Bun Teet raised his first question, other shareholders realised that SMSL representatives were present in the meeting.

The shareholders then repeatedly requested the meeting to allow the SMSL representatives to voice their concerns but this was shot down by Curtis, who suggested that the matter be discussed outside the meeting, over tea, SMSL said.

When Lynas' lawyer Andrew Arnold informed the meeting that the company has cleared all legal hindrances in Malaysia, it was rebutted by Tan who said the High Court in Kuantan only lifted the suspension on Lynas' temporary operating licence and that the case had yet to go into full trial.

SMSL also claimed that Curtis told the meeting that SMSL had rejected an early invitation from Lynas to visit the rare earth plant.

However Tan immediately refuted the claim and called Curtis a liar as it was SMSL that had requested to visit the plant and hold a dialogue with the company management as early as October 2011 but Lynas did not respond to this.

Outside the AGM premises, activists and supporters of SMSL held a protest, with banners and posters. It was also attended by New South Wales state MP Jamie Parker, who gave a speech during the protest.

According to Reuters , Curtis told the AGM that the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) should be nearing full production by the middle of next year.

Setting the timetable lifted the shares of Lynas, which have been hammered by concerns the plant was facing more delays, by more than eight percent to A$0.69 (RM2.20).

The broader market was up by about 0.5 percent, extending an overnight rally on Wall Street.

"By the second half of calendar year 2013, we expect to be moving towards full production capacity and have a business that has the potential to deliver sustainable and predictable earnings," Curtis said.

Citing the Australian Associated Press , Bernama reported Curtis as telling the AGM that it had been a year "when the noise around the company has reached an amplitude that is, quite frankly, not sustainable and very negative for us all".

“But I have to say that short-term share market performance is not our main focus as management of Lynas.

“One to two tough years to bring the business to life need to be put in the context of the long-term vision we are realising,” he is quoted as saying.

The US$800 million (RM2.4 billion) plant - the world's biggest outside China - has been ready to fire up since early May but Lynas has been delayed by environmental and safety disputes.

Massive quantities of superheated sulphuric acid are required to separate the rare earth elements from impurities found in the ore.

The company says the plant is safe and is not comparable to a rare earths plant in Malaysia that was shut by a unit of Mitsubishi Chemicals in 1992, after nearby residents blamed the plant for birth defects and a high rate of leukaemia cases.

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