Paperless office puts Tinkler on back foot
Grilled: Nathan Tinkler arrives at court on Thursday to face questions over Mulsanne Resources. Photo: Nick Moir
As Nathan Tinkler walked into the Supreme Court, a reporter asked: ''You worried?'' The coal baron shrugged: ''The chair's not electric, is it?''
The chair wasn't, though the courtroom was on occasion.
''I put my faith in the wrong people,'' said Mr Tinkler, the former mine sparkie who used a $500,000 loan to buy a coalmine in 2004 and built on that to become a paper billionaire - only to lose much of it when the commodities market collapsed.
Mr Tinkler had been warned an arrest warrant would be issued had he failed to appear for this examination by the liquidator of his private entity, Mulsanne Resources.
He flew in from his home in Singapore for the hearing, and was remarkably calm as he faced more than three hours of intense questioning from the liquidators' counsel, Robert Newlinds, SC, on Thursday.
Amid talk of deals worth hundreds of millions, this was all about Mulsanne's failure to pay a debt of just $28.4 million.
Last May, Mulsanne had signed a share purchase agreement to this value to acquire a third of the listed coal explorer Blackwood Coal corporation. Mulsanne failed to come through with the money.
Mr Newlinds pressed Mr Tinkler all day, suggesting the coal boss should never have signed the contract because he had no serious expectation that he could raise the money to pay Blackwood. But Mr Tinkler said: ''I had a number of avenues to raise funds.''
He had three properties in Newcastle and Brisbane in his wife's name, worth as much as $18 million, which could be used as security. He said he spoke to UBS, Bank of America and Credit Suisse. But, most importantly, Mr Tinkler said he had been banking on paying Blackwood with the proceeds of a deal he thought he had with a Singapore-based commodities trader called Noble Group.
After many discussions with Noble director Will Randall, Mr Tinkler said he was expecting Noble to pay him $25 million to $30 million for his three-quarter share of a royalty stream from the Middlemount coal mine in Queensland. But the coal price soon collapsed, and Noble came back months later offering half as much. ''I take nothing for granted in the Australian market,'' Mr Tinkler said. Later, he said: ''Noble's money fell away and I got left holding the can with this share subscription.''
The liquidators, however, had been unable to find a single file note from the Tinkler Group's offices to vouch for any deal with Noble, Mr Newlinds said. He asked Mr Tinkler if he hadn't thought of asking for it in writing - a ''comfort letter''.
''I certainly wish I had done that,'' Mr Tinkler said.
No paper had been found, either, for any discussions with the banks. Mr Tinkler said he believed he would have made records in his notebooks. His searches, and those of his Brisbane staff, had not found the notes Mr Newlinds was seeking. Further searches were to be made in the hope of bringing records to court when Mr Tinkler returns to the stand on Friday.