Chile lithium miner SQM moves to safeguard secrets from China's Tianqi

Santiago, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Chile’s SQM late on Wednesday told Chilean regulators that it had taken measures to safeguard its corporate secrets just weeks after top competitor Tianqi purchased a coveted quarter stake in the top lithium miner.

Tianqi in December bought a 23.77 percent share in SQM from Canadian fertilizer company Nutrien for $4.1 billion, entitling the Chinese lithium giant to three seats on SQM’s board.

A Chilean antitrust court approved the transaction but placed conditions on the sale that limit Tianqi’s access to SQM business secrets. SQM and its top shareholders fought the deal in court and continue to maintain the safeguards do not go far enough to protect its sensitive information from Tianqi.

SQM on Wednesday said its board had approved additional measures to safeguard company secrets.

The lithium miner told financial regulator CMF that all requests for sensitive information by a board member “appointed by a shareholder who is also a competitor” would first be routed through SQM’s CEO, and then shared with Chilean anti-trust regulators.

The CEO would be authorized to deny access to business secrets, but only on the order of the regulator.

SQM also said its board would create a new, internal Lithium Committee to review contracts, agreements, and other documents circulated by the board of directors and related to lithium, in order to “process all sensitive information.”

Tianqi said in December it had started interviewing candidates in Chile and abroad to take up the three seats on the SQM board in April.

Under the initial deal struck with Chilean anti-trust regulators, the Chinese miner cannot name any of its executives or employees.

Chinese companies are increasingly scouring the globe for the raw materials necessary to ramp up Chinese production of electric vehicles, which require lithium for their batteries.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood Editing by Chizu Nomiyama