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Anti-Coal Activist Avoids Prison After Whitehaven Hoax

An anti-coal activist in Australia whose fake news release knocked more than A$300 million ($282 million) off Whitehaven Coal Ltd.’s market value escaped a prison term today, receiving a 20-month suspended sentence.

Jonathan Moylan pleaded guilty in May to releasing a false statement claiming Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. had terminated a A$1.2 billion loan to Whitehaven on environmental grounds. The stock fell as much as 8.8 percent after news outlets published the release on Jan. 7 last year, and closed 0.6 percent lower after it was revealed to be a hoax.

“The market was manipulated,” New South Wales Supreme Court Justice David Davies said today in Sydney.

While investors lost money, Moylan, 26, didn’t carry out the hoax for personal financial gain and hadn’t been previously convicted of a serious offense, Davies said. Moylan was told he must stay out of trouble for two years and pay a A$1,000 bond.

Moylan had faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of as much as A$765,000, according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Environmental activists rallied behind Moylan and his group, Frontline Action on Coal, which is campaigning against Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine, the largest coal mine under construction in Australia. Supporters waited outside the court today carrying banners with the messages “No New Coal” and “Justice for Jonathan Moylan.”

“Confidence in the honesty and integrity of the financial markets is of the utmost importance,” ASIC Commissioner Cathie Armour said in a statement on the regulator’s website. “ASIC will not hesitate to enforce the law to ensure investors are protected and the integrity of the market is maintained.”

Maules Creek, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Sydney in the grain-growing Liverpool Plains region of the state of New South Wales, is on schedule for first export in March, the company said July 15.

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