January 13, 2013 / 3:00 PM / in 5 years

Bumi Plc chairman hints he could step down soon

LONDON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Indonesian coal tycoon Samin Tan suggested on Sunday that he could step down as chairman of London-listed miner Bumi Plc once the company had resolved a “critical period” of tension between major shareholders.

Bumi Plc, one of the world’s largest thermal coal exporters, was created by financier Nat Rothschild and Indonesia’s influential Bakrie family to bring promising Indonesian mining assets to London investors.

But after two years of shareholder infighting and tumbling shares, the company faces a bitter battle over its future.

Tan came in as an investor last January, when he pulled the Bakrie family from the brink of default with a $1 billion investment, only to see the value of that bet crumble. Together with the Bakries, he owns 29.9 percent of voting rights in Bumi.

Tan was appointed chairman in March, but, along with most current directors, has been accused by Rothschild of failing to adequately defend the interests of minority investors.

“Both the board and I see the need for the chairman to stay on through this critical period, however, I do not intend to stay as chairman any longer than the company needs me to,” he said in emailed comments.

He did not specify the period in question. But after agreeing to a demand from Rothschild, Bumi will hold a shareholder vote next month which could oust the 12 of 14 board members including Tan.

Rothschild’s plan for Bumi includes a virtually new board, with Wal King, the former head of Australian contractor Leighton Holdings, as independent chairman.

Bumi Plc said the February vote would offer shareholders a choice, but there are concerns that Rothschild’s planned new board - that will include Rothschild himself - could sabotage efforts by the coal miner to split with the Bakrie family, given the bitter rivalry between the two sides.

The Bakries, who announced in October that they planned to draw a line under the London venture and buy back the operational assets, are expected to detail their plan soon.

All sides agree that the Bakries should carry out the first stage of their plan, which involves the Bakries exiting their Bumi shareholding and taking Bumi Plc’s minority stake in miner Bumi Resources partly in exchange for their Bumi Plc shares.

But shareholders and the current board do not agree on the exact mechanics, timing or what follows.

Tan, who did not comment on the future of his shareholding, said he would not step down immediately.

“The board and I believe that I have to lead Bumi through this period on behalf of the shareholders who have lost so much through the poor behaviour of others,” he said.

Bumi Plc declined to comment.

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