By Clara Ferreira-Marques
LONDON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Coal miner Bumi Plc will offer bruised shareholders a “clear choice” on its future next month, the group said on Monday, as it granted co-founder Nat Rothschild’s request for a vote that could oust virtually all board members.
Rothschild, who is courting fellow investors in his battle against Bumi’s board members and the company’s Indonesian investors, earlier on Monday demanded a meeting to allow shareholders to vote on a plan to oust 12 of 14 current directors, including the newly appointed chief executive.
The demand escalated already heightened tensions between Rothschild, Indonesia’s Bakrie family who co-founded the group, and Bumi’s board. They all see different outcomes for a company that set out two years ago to bring promising Indonesian assets to London but has instead become emblematic of institutional investors’ worries about the governance of foreign companies listed in London.
“The calling of this general meeting will offer shareholders a clear choice between the board and its strategy of separation from the Bakrie Group, approved unanimously by the independent directors, and Nat Rothschild and his associates,” Chief Executive Nick von Schirnding said.
Bumi did not set a specific date.
A scion of the wealthy banking family, Rothschild set up Bumi, one of the world’s largest thermal coal exporters, over two years ago with Indonesia’s politically connected Bakrie family, reversing promising mining assets into a London shell.
The match was fraught with difficulties from the start, but tumbling shares and an investigation into potential financial wrongdoing at the group’s Indonesian operations have made relations increasingly acrimonious.
The Bakries announced last October, weeks after Bumi began the probe into potential wrongdoing, that they planned to draw the line under the London venture and unwind the company, pulling out the Indonesian assets they brought in.
All sides agree the Bakries should carry out the first stage of their plan: exiting their Bumi shareholding and taking a minority stake in miner Bumi Resources partly in exchange for their Bumi shares. The sides do not agree on exactly how, when or on what happens next.
Rothschild, whose original plans to buy out the Bakries’ Indonesian partners were rejected by those investors, now plans to bring in a new board including himself to turn Bumi around.
His proposed new board includes Wal King, the long-serving former boss of Australian contractor Leighton Holdings, who would serve as chairman, and ,as chief executive, Canadian Brock Gill, a senior member of the construction team at Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia.
Rothschild’s own return to the board after he resigned last year was questioned by Bumi’s senior independent director, Julian Horn-Smith, who has also been increasingly at odds with Rothschild and like von Schirnding would be ousted if the removal vote is approved. Horn-Smith criticized Rothschild’s “highly confrontational positions” while on the board.
Earlier in the day, Bumi said in a separate statement that weak coal prices in 2012 had forced it to review spending and postpone growth plans including construction of one of the coal industry’s longest overland conveyors.
Bumi said the company would not proceed for now with a $300 million plan for a 42 km conveyor and power plant at unit Berau Coal’s Binungan mine, previously part of the unit’s plan to increase production.