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Whitehaven Considers Selling Stake in Maules Creek, CEO Says

Whitehaven Coal Ltd., the producer that counts Nathan Tinkler as its largest shareholder, would look to sell part of its A$766 million ($803 million) Maules Creek project provided the buyer also agreed to take coal.

“There’s an opportunity there for us to introduce another partner,” Tony Haggarty, chief executive officer of Sydney-based Whitehaven, said in a phone interview. “The right reason would be about underpinning the offtake.”

Whitehaven gained Maules Creek through its A$2.7 billion takeover of Aston Resources Ltd. in December 2011, in a deal that made Tinkler its dominant shareholder. Relations with Tinkler have broken down as the entrepreneur made an unsuccessful bid to remove the board last year and Tinkler faced speculation his backers may seek to take control of his stake in the company.

Maules Creek, which is due to start operation in 2014, was the target of a hoax e-mail from a green group yesterday that pushed Whitehaven shares down as much as 8.8 percent before they recovered. Frontline Action on Coal sent a fake press release saying that Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. had terminated a A$1.2 billion loan to Whitehaven on environmental grounds.

The fake e-mail was “outrageous” and the people behind it need to be held accountable, Haggarty said.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has started inquiries into the hoax, focusing on the possibility of a breach of the Corporations Act with regard to making false or misleading statements, the watchdog said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

More broadly, potential investors have shied away from buying shares in Whitehaven because of speculation about the future of Tinkler’s stake, Haggarty said. “If he were to sell his shares to the market, if that 20 percent were held by broad-based institutional shareholders, that would be ideal.”

Whitehaven fell 0.6 percent to A$3.48 at 2:34 p.m. in Sydney trading. Its shares have declined 36 percent over the past year as the Australian benchmark added 15 percent.

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