LONDON-listed coal and iron-ore exploration and development company Sable Mining Africa has laid criminal charges against four former employees, including a senior executive at Delta Mining Consolidated (DMC), its majority-owned private mine exploration unit in SA.

Sable instituted criminal proceedings against the former employees after it discovered that they allegedly copied information on feasibility studies conducted in SA, Botswana and Liberia.

It suspects that this was done while the employees were working for DMC, and that Sable's servers were accessed remotely through their laptops earlier this year.

Sable said criminal charges were laid at the Midrand police station yesterday morning.

The company refused to comment further on the matter.

A police spokesman could not confirm yesterday that the charges were laid.

The combined value of the feasibility studies was estimated to be between R100m and R600m, and Sable alleged that the employees obtained unauthorised copies with the aim of either selling the information, or intended to use it to raise capital for a new venture that they had just established.

The data contained information relating to a feasibility study, conducted through DMC, for the Rietkuil Bank coal project in Mpumalanga.

Sable estimated that this involved a resource of about 42-million tons.

In July last year, Sable Mining CEO Andrew Groves announced that the bankable feasibility study conducted in the area allowed for the development of a beneficiation plant that had the capacity to produce 2,6-million tons a year.

On completion, the thermal coal product would be earmarked for local and export markets.

Information relating to exploration data that Sable obtained through its subsidiary, African Iron Ore, for the Gulukwane ore project in the iron ore-rich region of Thabazimbi, in Limpopo, was also suspected to have been duplicated from Sable's computer database.

The four former employees are also alleged to have obtained copies of research and evaluation data relating to Sable's Kpo iron-ore project in Liberia.

Mr Groves had announced earlier this year that preliminary results from rock sampling and drilling activities indicated "promising" iron discoveries in Liberia.

Following the alleged theft of the information, the company has not specified whether or not it will remain committed to its investments in DMC, or whether the future of the company was secure.

Sable Mining counts among its shareholders former cricketer Phil Edmonds, who along with Mr Groves courted controversy for their alleged ties to the Robert Mugabe-led Zanu (PF) in the run-up to Zimbabwe's last elections.

Sable Mining and DMC have been locked in a tumultuous relationship since the middle of last year.

The relationship between the two companies began to deteriorate after an agreement lapsed last year.

It contained suspensive conditions, which resulted in Sable not acquiring the remaining shares it did not own in DMC.

Sable announced the dismissal of Heine van Niekerk, the then CEO of DMC, after the outcome of a disciplinary hearing earlier in the year.

Mr van Niekerk founded DMC in 2000 and his family trust, Avalon, held a 34,5% stake in the business.

He was not available for comment yesterday, but last week, Mr van Niekerk told Mining Weekly that his dismissal was part of a broader legal dispute between Sable and DMC.