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SQM diversifying outside Chile with Lithium Americas JV, says analyst

With the recent signing of a 50/50 with to advance theCauchari-Olarozlithium project in Argentina, SociedadQuimica y Minera de Chile SA, or SQM, is looking to diversifybeyond its Salar de Atacamalithium operations in Chile, Business News Americas reported March 29 citing aninvestor note from Banchile Citi Global Markets.

The company is being investigated for alleged involvement inillegal financing of political campaigns, as well as embroiled in a concessionfee payment dispute with state development body Corfo.

SQM is also facing accusations of influence peddling, byformer CEO Patricio Contesse, during discussions which led to a temporaryincrease in the mining royalties. The company has denied any wrongdoings.

Banchile-Citi termed the joint venture as a positive stepfor the company's shareholders adding that it was "a tangible effort bythe company to diversify and increase its lithium production beyond its Salarde Atacama operations, the future of which remains uncertain due to the ongoingarbitration with Corfo."

In November 2015, a union at the company's lithium carbonateplant accused SQM of illegally exporting brines from Chile and tax evasion, towhich the company deniedany wrongdoings.

Earlier in March, SQM said its net income for the full year2015 fell to US$213.2million, from US$296.4 million a year earlier.