Hancock Prospecting, a mining and agricultural business run by Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart, has increased its stake in Liontown Resources to become its largest shareholder.

The company raised its stake in Liontown Resources to 16.7%, by paying $3 per share.

It is the third time Hancock increased its shareholding in Liontown in recent weeks, including a purchase of a 7.72% stake in Liontown, and increased its stake to 10.7%, followed by 12.4%.

The increased stake purchase is adequate to potentially block US-based mining company Albemarle’s proposed acquisition of Liontown for a total of $4.3bn, reported Reuters.

Hancock, in its statement, said: “Hancock welcomes the opportunity to participate in the Kathleen Valley project as a shareholder and have an influence on the company’s overall future direction – including where decisions are to be made by shareholders.

“Hancock does not currently intend to put forward any director nominations at Liontown’s upcoming Annual General Meeting.

“However, Hancock remains open to nominating directors to Liontown’s board in the future and particularly if its Strategic Stake continues to increase towards 19.9%.”

Liontown’s Kathleen Valley lithium project in Western Australia is considered one of the world’s most promising deposits hosting metal used in electric vehicles and smartphones.

The Australian miner already signed agreements with the US car giant Ford to supply the raw material used in the production of electric vehicle batteries.

Albemarle’s recent takeover bid requires a 75% voting majority from Liontown investors, and a stake between 15% and 20% can often become a deciding factor, reported Reuters.

Albemarle declared that its bid is ‘best and final’, meaning its current offer cannot be raised and the bidder would have to walk away for some time before returning with a sweetened deal.

The recent stake purchase indicates that Hancock can replace the previous largest shareholder, Liontown chairman Tim Goyder, with a 14.97% stake in Liontown, said the publication.