Tax trouble grows for indebted Australian coal baron Tinkler

Jane Wardell
Reuters Middle East

SYDNEY, Dec 13 (Reuters) - The Australian Tax Office has

filed a wind-up action against Nathan Tinkler's sports group

over a A$2.7 million ($2.85 million) debt, widening its pursuit

of the embattled mining mogul over missed payments.

The tax office applied on Wednesday to liquidate Hunter

Sports Group, the owner of A-league soccer team the Newcastle

Jets and rugby league team the Newcastle Knights, adding to

similar filings against Tinkler's holding firm and a financing

shelf company.

Tinkler's empire of coal, horse racing and sports assets --

built on the back of Australia's mining boom -- appears to be

crumbling, with filings at least weekly by creditors against his

web of more than 40 companies.

The series of lawsuits over unpaid bills and commercial

disputes have raised questions about the future of Tinkler's

main asset, a near one-fifth stake in Whitehaven Coal,

Australia's largest independent coal miner.

There has been little respite for Tinkler, 36, whose wealth

has plummeted in line with falling coal prices in recent weeks.

His private jet and helicopter, estimated to be worth around

A$45 million, were seized last week by receivers who took

control of TGHA Aviation Ltd. Liquidators have also been

appointed to his horse racing business, Patinack Farm

Administration Pty Ltd, and Mulsanne Resources Ltd over debts

totalling more than A$34 million.

The tax office has declined to comment on the extent of the

debts owed by the two other companies it is pursuing, Tinkler

Group Holdings Administration Pty Ltd and Queen Street Capital.

Tinkler has successfully paid off debts worth millions of

dollars in recent weeks to stave off some creditors and avoid

public scrutiny of his finances through the courts, including an

Irish race horsing stud owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.


But, in signs of the building pressure, the man who was

until recently Australia's youngest billionaire has been cutting

costs across his business.

He is giving up his A$165,000-a-year private suite at the

ANZ Stadium in Sydney, the premier sports venue where his

neighbours included actor Russell Crowe and the bosses of

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd and Telstra

Corp Ltd.

A second discount sale last week of horses has also halved

the size of his beloved Patinack Farm, until recently

Australia's largest breeding and racing operation.

Hunter Sports Group, which is already being chased by the

New South Wales state government for A$6000,000 in unpaid

stadium fees, said on Thursday it was surprised at the action

launched by the tax office.

"We advise that any outstanding sum will be paid as soon as

possible -- well before the reported hearing date on the matter

next February," it said in a statement, adding it was business

as usual for both the Knights and the Jets.

All three cases brought by the tax office are scheduled to

return to court in February.

Demand for coal from China, Australia's major export market,

has cooled, shrinking Tinkler's wealth.

Whitehaven shares were trading at A$3.20, down 1.1 percent,

on Thursday. They have lost more than 40 percent since a $5

billion merger of Tinkler's companies Aston Resources and

Boardwalk Resources with Whitehaven in April.

That cut Tinkler's holding, which sources have told Reuters

is heavily leveraged, to around A$600 million, compared with

A$1.1 billion at its peak.

Tinkler's main backer, U.S. hedge fund manager Farallon

Capital Management LLC's asset manager Noonday, has been looking

at options including pressing for the sale of shares or

converting some of the loans into equity.

($1 = 0.9485 Australian dollars)

(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Paul Tait)

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