Just when embattled mining mogul, Nathan Tinkler, thought it couldn’t get any worse, shares in Whitehaven Coal plummeted on Monday when a phony press release was issued claiming the company had lost the financial backing of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ).
Anti-mining activist group, Front Line Action on Coal, issued the hoax statement to major national media outlets on ANZ letterhead and included the names of ANZ employees.
The bogus press release claimed ANZ had withdrawn from a $1.3 debt facility for Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal project in New South Wales, only a fortnight after the loan was announced.
Soon after the news hit the headlines, investors scrambled to dump stock, forcing Whitehaven into a trading halt after $330 million (A$314m) was wiped off the coal miner’s value. Shares drove down nearly 9 per cent during this time. The stock has now recovered and is roughly back to where it was before the hoax began.
Front Line Action on Coal say they conducted the stunt in response to what they see as Whitehaven’s plan to destroy 1360 hectares of koala habitat to build the Maules Creek project. The group also claims the environmental impact of the project will force neighbouring farmers off their land.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission said it was investigating the matter with the possibility that charges may be laid on the activist group responsible.
In 2012 a number of Nathan Tinkler’s companies were placed in administration or liquidation causing concern amongst Whitehaven investors. Mr Tinkler currently has a 20 per cent stake in the company.
Speaking to AAP, Whitehaven’s managing director Tony Haggarty said the company will co-operate with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigation.
“Whitehaven treats matters such as the hoax announcement … very seriously,” he said.
“The integrity of the information provided to the public regarding Whitehaven goes to the heart of the markets integrity and directly affects the price of Whitehaven shares, as well as our many shareholders.
“Whitehaven is also investigating any legal action that may be available to it and shareholders’
Currently waiting on federal approval, the Maules Creek project has the potential the double Whitehaven’s annual coal production with production scheduled to begin mid 2013.
Whitehaven claims the open cut mining operation is ‘one of only a few remaining tier 1 undeveloped coal assets in Australia’. It is also one of the largest coal deposits in Australia with 362Mt of recoverable reserves.