David Frances is walking away from his dual role as chief executive and managing director of lithium junior Novo Litio and “returning to Australia for personal reasons”.

Shares slipped about 2 per cent to 5c just after market open this morning. In the past two weeks, Novo’s share price has almost halved from its 52-week high of 9.7c.

NLI shares over the past three months. Source: Investing.com
NLI shares over the past three months. Source: Investing.com

The move comes just days after Novo placed its Sepeda lithium project in Portugal on the backburner while it continues a legal fight against privately-owned Portuguese exploration junior Lusorecursos to protect its interests in the project.

The dispute began back in June last year when Novo, then Dakota Minerals, inked a binding deal with Lusorecursos to acquire a tenement package over the three most prospective areas for spodumene and petalite-hosted lithium in Portugal.

Novo had been trying to get its hands on a mining licence application for the project before the current exploration licence expired on December 7, but Lusorecursos has been making it difficult for Novo to replace the existing exploration licence with a mining licence.

A previous scoping study also indicated that Sepeda would need a larger resource to justify the construction of a battery-grade lithium carbonate plant in Portugal.

This prompted Novo to instead focus on developing its other European lithium projects.

The company is not giving up its legal fight, however, and Mr Frances will continue to work with the board as an advisor to assist with the ongoing proceedings.

Frances Wedin, Novo’s executive technical director, has been appointed as interim chief executive.

Novo has been contacted for comment.