Legal

The hoax, the horses and the helicopter

Cara Waters /

Coal baron Nathan Tinkler’s struggle for survival continues after he was the victim of a hoax press release yesterday which sent shares in Whitehaven Coal tumbling.

The hoax wiped more than $314 million off the value of Whitehaven, the company which Tinkler owns 200 million shares in.

The fake press release which purported to be from ANZ said that a recent $1.2 billion loan to help Whitehaven build a new mine had been overturned because of concerns about the impact the mine would have on farmers, the environment and society.

“The decision is related to volatility in the global coal market, expected cost blow-outs and ANZ’s Corporate Responsibility policy,” the press release said.

Investors were quick to dump their shares and Whitehaven was placed in a trading halt.

Whitehaven released a statement to the ASX shortly after 1pm saying there was “no substance” to the hoax, and ANZ confirmed the loan to Whitehaven was still fully in place.

The fake press release was the work of anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan, who wanted to alert ANZ’s investors to the bank’s relationship with Whitehaven:

anz-fake-press-release-2a

Tinkler stood to lose up to $50 million from his 19% stake in Whitehaven. However, at the close of the market yesterday, Whitehaven shares recovered to be down just 2c at $3.53 at close once news of the hoax spread.

The scam marks the latest blow to Tinkler, who was estimated to be worth $1.13 billion on last year’s Rich List.

Now his wealth has plummeted, with the embattled former billionaire scrambling to save his assets and taking the rare step of issuing a media statement last week insisting his racing empire was not on the brink of collapse and it would soon be “business as usual”.

Liquidators were appointed to Tinkler’s Patinack Farm racing operations in November last year. However, the coal baron managed to stave off the liquidation.

Similarly, Tinkler is fighting to save his private jet and helicopter by attempting to refinance the $US11.9 million ($11.42 million) debt on them before receivers sell them.

The coal baron lost his Dassault Falcon 900C and AgustaWestland helicopter to receivers last month after failing to make $230,000 monthly payments to a creditor.

He appears to have given up on saving his sporting teams, with the Australian Tax Office moving in December to wind up the Newcastle Knights and Newcastle Jets.

Tinkler’s stake in Whitehaven remains the last remaining jewel in his crown and he is unlikely to be impressed by Moylan’s stunt.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is the former editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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