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
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.
BELOVED HORSES SOLD
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
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)