Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Indebted Australian coal magnate Tinkler appears in court
SYDNEY, March 14 |
(Reuters) - Embattled Australian coal tycoon Nathan Tinkler appeared in a Sydney court on Thursday to face a public grilling for the first time over the state of his finances, as creditors seek to recover millions of dollars in unpaid debts.
Tinkler, 37, flew in from his home in Singapore having been threatened with arrest if he failed to present himself in the New South Wales Supreme Court. He lost a last-minute bid to avoid questioning over a A$28.4 million ($29.1 million) debt to junior coal explorer Blackwood Corp Ltd.
The Blackwood case is one of a series of lawsuits against the former billionaire over unpaid bills and commercial disputes that have raised questions about the future of his main asset, a near one-fifth stake in Whitehaven Coal, Australia's largest independent coal miner.
Tinkler's private shelf company, Mulsanne Resources, was placed into liquidation at Blackwood's request after Tinkler failed to follow through on a deal for a A$28.4 million share placement.
Robert Newlinds, the lawyer for liquidator Ferrier Hodgson, is expected to focus initially on the share placement agreement, but questioning could extend to Tinkler's wider business empire and personal financial position.
Tinkler, who moved with his family to Singapore last year, has paid off debts worth millions of dollars in recent months to stave off some creditors and avoid public scrutiny of his finances through the courts.
He has been selling assets, including horses from his large stable, and liquidators have seized his private jet and helicopter.
The entrepreneur was threatened with contempt of court and arrest by liquidators after he failed to appear for questioning in the Blackwood case last week as scheduled.
Blackwood turned down an offer last week from Singapore-based Cayenne Coal, a private company linked to Tinkler's main holding company Tinkler Group, to buy up to 100 percent of the shares in Blackwood at 30 cents per share.
If liquidators find that Mulsanne does not have enough assets to cover the Blackwood liability, Tinkler could face charges or fines for insolvent trading.
A former coal mining electrician, Tinkler turned a A$1 million bet on a coal deposit into a billion-dollar fortune, spending millions on racehorses and sports clubs. But his wealth has plummeted as coal prices have slumped.
Whitehaven's shares have plunged more than 25 percent since the start of the year following a profit downgrade and the announcement of a management reshuffle, leaving the value of Tinkler's 19.4 percent stake at just over A$500 million.
That's less than a A$600 million loan sources have told Reuters he owes against that stake to his main backer, U.S. hedge fund manager Farallon Capital Management LLC's asset manager Noonday.
Noonday, which heads the loan consortium that includes Credit Suisse, has been looking at options including pressing for the sale of shares or converting some of the loans into equity, sources have previously told Reuters. (Editing by Stephen Coates)