The man behind a hoax press release which wiped more than $314 million off the value of Nathan Tinkler's Whitehaven Coal, and caused the company's shares to be placed in a trading halt, has defended his actions as justified.
Jonathan Moylan, an anti-coal activist, compared himself to the Chaser breaking into APEC in defending his stunt, which wreaked havoc on the Australian share market on Monday.
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Hoaxer defends fake ANZ letter
Anti-coal activist Johathan Moylan says he published a fake ANZ press release regarding Whitehaven Coal in order to inform ANZ investors.
The fake press release claimed to be from ANZ bank and 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 agriculture and the environment.
The announcement caused Whitehaven shares to fall 31 cents, or 8.8 per cent, from $3.52 to $3.21 shortly after midday.
The Whitehaven share price started rebounding as news of the hoax spread, and the price was $3.32 when trading was halted shortly before 1pm.
Having now exited the halt, shares are trading at $3.525, up half a cent from yesterday's close.
ANZ confirms loan
Whitehaven released a statement to the ASX shortly after 1pm saying there was "no substance" to the hoax, and that ANZ had confirmed the loan to Whitehaven was still fully in place.
ANZ arranged a $1.2 billion loan facility to Whitehaven in December to help it build the Maules Creek mine that was received as part of Whitehaven's merger with Nathan Tinkler's Aston Resources.
Maules Creek is located north-west of Newcastle in New South Wales, around agricultural land.
Today's false press release carried the ANZ logo and falsely suggested that ANZ had withdrawn its loan because of "volatility in the global coal market, expected cost blow-outs and ANZ's Corporate Responsibility policy".
The fake press release carried a phone number purporting to be that of Toby Kent, an actual ANZ staff member.
But the phone was actually answered by Mr Moylan, pretending to be Mr Kent. He spoke to several journalists using Mr Kent’s personna, claiming to represent the bank and saying it was reviewing its coal investments.
ANZ quickly hosed down the hoax, saying its position on Whitehaven had not changed since December 22, when it agreed to supply Whitehaven with the $1.2 billion loan facility.
ANZ is a signatory to the "Equator Principles" which are a set of voluntary standards which are intended to help banks avoid loaning money to projects that will have a negative social or environmental outcome.
The false press release implied that Maules Creek had failed these standards on several levels.
“We want our customers to be assured that we will not be investing in coal projects that cause significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict," the false statement said.
The hoax suggested the impact could go further than just Whitehaven's share price, saying that the bank would reconsider its loans to all coal and gas projects.
"ANZ is currently undertaking a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity," the false statement said.
In a later phone call, Mr Moylan admitted the hoax, and claimed it was justified by the environmental destruction he said would be wrought by the mine, near Narrabri in NSW.
"We considered the decision to run a spoof very carefully before we did it, but we believe it is justified,’’ Mr Moylan said. ‘‘We think it is a bit like the Chaser getting into APEC, or the Yes Men announcing that Union Carbide had shut down."
Asked if he had qualms about lying to the public to achieve environmental ends, he said: ‘‘Our primary concern is the impact of this mine on the environment at the end of the day. A lot of people were taken in by it, but when you compare the cost of that to the health of our forests and farmlands, it justifies it.’’
Asked if the anti-coal group had considered that Whitehaven might pursue legal action it, Mr Moylan said: ‘‘I’m not prepared to comment on that at this time.’’
Coal baron Nathan Tinkler is a major shareholder in Whitehaven, with about 19.4 per cent of shares.
The planned open-cut coal mine would clear up to 2000 hectares of Leard State Forest, which provides habitat for koalas and other vulnerable species, and generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, is still considering whether to grant approval for the project.
Third time unlucky
Today's hoax is the third time in recent months that the share price of an ASX listed company has been affected by a hoax.
Trading in Macmahon Holdings was halted in October 2012 when hoax emails prompted takeover speculation.
Retailer David Jones was also victim to a hoax in July 2012, when an entity called "EB Private Equity" launched a supposed takeover bid from Britain.
The initial news of the bid drove up David Jones shares by 20 per cent before it was revealed to be lacking substance.
Both the David Jones and MacMahon Holdings episodes were looked into by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and it is expected that ASIC may investigate this latest saga concerning Whitehaven.