The London-based RTZ, which reports its full-year results this week, is understood to be looking closely at the Konkola mine project as a launch pad for expansion in Zambia. An RTZ spokesman confirmed that the group was opening an office in Lusaka. 'We are considering new offices to evaluate exploration opportunities. Many African countries, including Zambia, are now looking favourably at foreign mining companies.'
RTZ has no trading links with Zambia, which is one of the world's biggest copper producers with deposits to last 50 years. However, a deepening financial crisis has forced the Zambian government to open the door to foreign mining groups to develop new projects.
The mine is owned by Zambia Consolidated Copper Mining (Zamco), which is 60 per cent owned by the Zambian government. Another 27 per cent is controlled by Anglo American, the big South African minerals group.
The project needs a dollars 600m investment to achieve a production target of 180,000 tonnes of finished copper per year. However, Zamco's majority owners have yet to raise the funds.
RTZ has lobbied hard for a big share in the venture in return for providing the funds, and is thought to be the leading contender.
Later this week the company is expected to report an increase in annual net profits from pounds 249m to about pounds 300m.