SYDNEY, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Mining magnate Nathan Tinkler is seeking to seize control of the board of Australia’s Whitehaven Coal and install his own management team, the Australian Financial Review reported, setting the stage for a fiery annual general meeting of the company on Thursday.
Tinkler told the paper he would seek support from other shareholders to vote against the re-election of Chairman Mark Vaile and four other directors at the meeting so he can take over as chairman and bring in his own team.
The 36-year-old, who went from pit electrician to Australia’s youngest billionaire, has a 19.4 percent stake in Whitehaven, acquired after it took over two companies he controlled, Aston Resources and Boardwalk Resources, in a $2.5 billion deal in April.
Tinkler, who failed to secure funding for a $5.5 billion bid to take Whitehaven private in August, told the paper the current management team was “penny-wise and pound foolish.”
“I’ve got far too much invested to stand by and watch this thing continue to fail,” Tinkler was quoted as saying from his new home in Singapore.
A source close to Tinkler Group said the tycoon would not attend Thursday’s meeting in Sydney.
The young tycoon wrote an open letter to shareholders in Australia’s biggest independent coal miner, published in newspapers on Wednesday, to condemn a 44 percent fall in Whitehaven’s share price, or A$2.3 billion ($2.4 billion) drop in market capitalisation, since April 30.
Whitehaven shares are now trading barely above A$3.00 as it faces rising costs, a slump in coal prices, an uncertain demand outlook, and difficulties on a key mine expansion.
Tinkler, who has been embroiled in a number of legal actions in recent months over missed payments to creditors, defended his own finances. He told the paper that suggestions he owed $250 million “is just not the case.”
On Wednesday, Whitehaven Managing Director Tony Haggarty slammed Tinkler’s open letter, saying his “comments contain many serious inaccuracies, inconsistencies and highly misleading statements.”
Whitehaven was not immediately available for a response to the latest comments by Tinkler.
Whitehaven warned last week after prodding by Tinkler that its profits could slide this year if coal prices weaken.
Tinkler had sought confirmation that the company’s outlook for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization was close to the market consensus of A$188 million, which the company did say was in line with its current projections.
Whitehaven warned, however, that if coal prices stay as weak as they are now, EBITDA for the year to June 2013 could slide to A$50 million.
Most of Tinkler’s wealth is tied up in his Whitehaven stake, worth about A$1.1 billion at its peak and now just A$600 million, with creditors circling his stable of mining, sports and horse racing businesses. (Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by John Mair)