Whitehaven Targeted by Green Group in Hoax Funding E-Mail

Whitehaven Coal Ltd., developing the A$766 million ($803 million) Maules Creek mine, was targeted by a hoax e-mail from a green group campaigning against the project that sent its shares down as much as 8.8 percent.

Frontline Action on Coal, an environmental group that opposes the mine in Australia’s New South Wales state, 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, Jonathan Moylan, a spokesman for the group, said by phone. Whitehaven recovered to close 0.6 percent lower at A$3.50 in Sydney after it and ANZ revealed the e-mail was a hoax.

The securities regulator said it had started an inquiry into the hoax. Green groups have stepped up campaigns in courts and by occupying port facilities in Australia in an effort to reduce shipments from the world’s largest exporter of coal. Frontline Action last year started a camp in the Leard State Forest, near Maules Creek, about 391 kilometers (243 miles) northwest of Sydney in the grain-growing Liverpool Plains.

Whitehaven’s shares plunged after the Australian Financial Review and the Australian Associated Press reported the fake statement as news. The hoax release, which mirrored the format of ANZ’s official statements, listed a phone number purportedly for Toby Kent, the head of corporate sustainability at ANZ. The number, identical to one on the green group’s website, was answered by a man who identified himself as Moylan when Bloomberg News phoned for comment.

Legal Action

ANZ said in an e-mailed statement it was aware of the “fraudulent” media release purporting to be from it. The bank is “reviewing its options,” Stephen Ries, a spokesman for ANZ, said by phone from Melbourne.

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

Frontline Action is protesting against clearing of the forest as part of the mine’s construction. The planned mine would lead to the destruction of half of the Leard State Forest, endangering koala habitat as well as at least 26 other threatened species, according to its website.

Farmer Protests

Local farmers of barley, chickpeas, sorghum, corn and cotton have formed protest groups against coal mining and exploration for coal-seam gas in the area. More than 100 farmers in October blockaded a property to block a drill from entering a farm to start a pilot gas well, the Daily Telegraph reported. China’s Shenhua Energy Co., which owns the Watermark coal project in the region, has faced community opposition, while Whitehaven already operates a number of coal mines in the area.

The Sydney-based company said last month it completed the A$1.2 billion debt facility, underwritten by ANZ, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank Ltd. Whitehaven plans to use the funds to replace existing facilities, to develop the Maules Creek mine and for general corporate purposes, it said in a statement.

The company in October received approval from the New South Wales government for Maules Creek, located in the Gunnedah Basin, with first coal sales planned in 2014.

(Corrects ANZ comment in fifth paragraph.)
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