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Noble Ex-Chief Leiman Seeks Bonus And Shares in Lawsuit

Noble Group Ltd. Former CEO Ricardo Leiman
Ricardo Leiman, former chief executive officer of Noble Group Ltd. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Ricardo Leiman, who quit Noble Group Ltd. the day it posted its first quarterly loss in about 14 years, sued a unit of Asia’s biggest commodity supplier, claiming his shares and 2011 bonus were wrongfully withheld.

Leiman said that as chief executive officer he’s entitled to an annual discretionary bonus of 3 percent of Noble’s net income, according to the lawsuit filed with the Singapore High Court. He also holds about 67.7 million restricted shares and share options in a trust, the filing showed. The first closed hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

His 2011 bonus works out to $12.9 million based on the full-year net income of $431 million in 2011. The shares are worth about S$75.8 million ($59.1 million) after the stock fell 2.6 percent to close at S$1.12 today, according to Bloomberg’s calculations.

Noble was “unhappy” with Leiman’s performance and decided to terminate him, Jeffrey Alam, group general counsel at the Hong Kong-based company said in papers in response to the lawsuit. Leiman, 46, resigned after several disagreements with Chairman Richard Elman and “mutually agreed” to stop work on Dec. 1, according to his complaint.

Noble spokesman Stephen Brown didn’t reply to two emailed requests for comment.

‘Vexatious Suit’

The lawsuit should be dismissed as it’s vexatious and Leiman’s ability to exercise his shares and options was “on condition that he had not acted in any way to the detriment of Noble,” Noble’s Alam said in his filing.

Noble announced Leiman’s resignation on Nov. 9, the same day it posted a $17.5 million loss in the third quarter. Leiman left for “personal reasons” and would stay on as an adviser, the Singapore-listed company said at that time.

Leiman would be paid $350,000 a year for advising the firm for at least nine months, according to his lawsuit. Elman, who founded Noble, became acting CEO following Leiman’s departure.

Elman had assured Leiman that “all his entitlements would be honored” when he agreed to Elman’s request to extend his notice period, according to the complaint. Leiman was entitled to exercise 7.7 million share options, another 5.65 million in incentive shares and be considered for a bonus, according to his complaint.

On March 1, two days after Leiman was allowed to convert as much as 5 million share options, Alam emailed him stating that a committee had rejected the exercise because of “recent information” received, according to the complaint. Leiman was also informed by Alam in May that he would not be paid a bonus for 2011, according to the lawsuit.

Approaching Clients

Noble alleged that since Leiman’s termination, he had approached its clients, counter parties, advisers and employees seeking their cooperation with the intention of competing with the company and with a view to soliciting them, according to a March 27 letter from the company cited in Leiman’s complaint.

“These approaches have been damaging to Noble’s relationships with these people and with Mr. Leiman himself,” according to the letter cited in the lawsuit.

Noble also accused Leiman of misusing the company’s confidential information and that members of a management team he hired to run its sugar and ethanol mills in Brazil were not qualified and may have participated in fraudulent conduct at a former employer.

Leiman “did not conduct himself in any manner to the detriment of” Noble, he said in his lawsuit, denying the allegations made by the company.

Noble which appointed Yusuf Alireza, the former Asia-Pacific co-president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as CEO on April 16, has seen its stock slump 43 percent in the past 12 months. That compares with an 9.3 percent decline on the benchmark Straits Times Index. The index fell 0.5 percent today.

The case is Ricardo Leiman v. Noble Resources Ltd. S393/2012. Singapore High Court.

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