Shares of two junior exploration companies moved dramatically in opposite directions on the first trading day after a court ordered IMA Exploration Inc. to turn over Argentina's Navidad silver project to rival Aquiline Resources Inc.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange yesterday, Aquiline shares soared 102 per cent to close at $5.11, while IMA shares plunged 79 per cent to close at 70 cents on the TSX Venture Exchange.
The frenzied trading followed a Supreme Court of British Columbia ruling on Friday that found IMA illegally used confidential information to discover and stake Navidad, an Argentine deposit with an estimated 305 million ounces of silver.
IMA chief executive officer Joseph Grosso said yesterday that he was "stunned" by the judgment. He said IMA will appeal and is hoping for a quick hearing.
"Our legal team is trying to accelerate it -- and they feel that because of the length of the time it has taken to bring down the [recent]decision, the magnitude of the case and the seriousness of the remedy imposed, the court will act with much more urgency than is the normal case," he said.
At stake is a major silver deposit. The ultimate value of the project is not known, but expert witnesses at the trial came up with estimates that ranged from $85-million (U.S.) to $612-million.
One witness said the only project comparable with Navidad in terms of size is Bolivia's San Cristobal, the flagship $600-million project now being developed by Denver-based Apex Silver Mines Ltd.
The fight over Navidad can be traced back to another project, Calcatreu, an Argentine gold project now being developed by Aquiline.
Back in 2002, Calcatreu was for sale, and both Aquiline and IMA were among the companies that signed confidentiality agreements with the then-owner of the property that allowed prospective buyers to look at data related to the project.
Aquiline acquired Calcatreu in early 2003. In February, 2003, IMA announced it had found a "bonanza grade silver-copper-lead discovery," Navidad, in Argentina.
The companies began wrangling about Navidad in 2003, with Aquiline wondering how IMA came to stake its promising new find and pointing out that data related to Calcatreu was confidential.
The two sites are about 40 kilometres apart.
Aquiline launched a court case in March, 2004, after the companies failed to reach a settlement.
The judgment came seven months after a trial in Vancouver last year, during which witnesses were grilled over the finer points of confidentiality agreements.
Aquiline CEO Marc Henderson said the Navidad dispute has overshadowed Aquiline's other projects, including Calcatreu. Navidad is a natural extension to Aquiline's existing project, he said.
"We essentially own the district now, if we own Navidad and [Calcatreu]together, we own this whole fantastic new district that's got a million-ounce-type gold mine at the north end and one of the world's best silver projects at the south end and all the ground in between is owned by one company."