ACCC chairman Rod Sims to sell stake in agribusiness group part-owned by News Corporation
It's been revealed that Sims has an investment worth about $1 million in RM Williams Agricultural Holdings, whose subsidiary later received millions of dollars in Federal Government funding to be used to help create the world's biggest carbon farm through the purchase of a cattle station in the Northern Territory.
RM Williams Agricultural Holdings is the sister company to bush clothing company RM Williams. It operates farmland across Australia, and has investments in organic chicken. Both companies are chaired by Ken Cowley, the former News Limited boss.
News Corporation invested $30 million in RM Williams Agricultural Holdings in 2009, giving it a stake of more than 26%.
Sims told the Australian Financial Review that he was "not aware" of the company's carbon trading position.
"I will be out of those shares in a few months, but I am not out of them yet," Sims said, adding they had "not yet been sold because the privately held company is illiquid."
Responding to questions of a potential conflict of interest as the ACCC rules on a proposed takeover by the News-backed Foxtel for rival pay television group Austar, Sims replied: "The conflict is not who my fellow shareholders are but that I do have shareholdings in any companies."
"I don't think the chairman of the ACCC should have any shares in any companies. If I had my druthers they would have all been sold by now."
Sims is believed to have picked up the stake in the RM Williams Agricultural Holdings a couple of years ago when it merged with a company in which he was invested.
The ACCC was contacted for further comment this morning, but did not dispute the nature and specifics of the report.
Rod Sims told SmartCompany earlier this month that he was prepared with the public criticism that often accompanies the ACCC chairman role.
"I'll just call them as I see them and if controversy comes, it comes. I've got a reasonably thick skin," he said.
It also follows controversy over problems for former chief Graeme Samuel, whose interest in the teetering DFO holding company Austexx were held in a blind trust.