Nathan Tinkler has been written off plenty of times before but the possibility that he could face insolvent trading charges is a serious blow.
If laid and proved, Tinkler could be fined or held personally liable for the debt of his private company Mulsanne Resources – now in the hands of liquidators Ferrier Hodgson - and, ultimately, find himself banned from acting as a company director. If he was found to have acted dishonestly, Tinkler could even face jail.
That’s a way off yet but what is clear is that the $28.4 million Mulsanne owed to Blackwood was a bridge too far for Tinkler and his empire.
For once, he could not come up with the cash. For the past two months business journalists have been trundling in and out of various court rooms as Tinkler’s lawyers used delaying tactics, only to settle at the last possible moment.
Each time Tinkler has settled, the question remains, where has he been getting the money from? Last month the sale of a development site in North Richmond by Buildev, brought in $15 million last month.
A ‘'reduction sale’' of 300 of his horses at the Magic Millions auctions garnered about $4 million. His All Too Hard and Nechita have had some good wins in the past month but much of that money was withheld by race clubs in Sydney and Melbourne, to cover debts.
For even as Tinkler’s private companies, dragged kicking and screaming, have been settling claims totalling at least $21 million – to Mirvac, to Sedgman, to the tax office, the Office of State Revenue and others - reports have emerged of just how biting the cashflow crisis inside Tinkler’s empire really was.
According to his own head trainer John Thompson, Tinkler’s thoroughbred stable Patinack Farm was at times unable to cover the cost of feed! Patinack failed to pay super or workers compensation insurance premiums.
Hunter Sports Group was reportedly behind on players' super for Newcastle Knights and salaries for office staff. Tinkler Group Holdings even dared not to pay fees to one of the country’s biggest law firms, Gilbert & Tobin. His private jet is reportedly under a repossession order.
Normally it would be a simple matter for someone of Tinkler’s wealth to simply borrow more money to pay off all these claims. Tinkler makes no bones about his reliance on debt, a strategy that has worked well for him in the past.
But his main asset – a 19.4 per cent stake in Whitehaven Coal – has plummeted in value. Tinkler’s spokesmen have never been able to end speculation he must be under pressure from lenders nervous about their exposure – although perhaps not quite a margin call, such as ordinary investors might experience.
Tinkler’s main lender – Singapore-based Noonday Asset Management, an arm of hedge fund Farallon Capital – is also a substantial shareholder in Whitehaven and has no interest in sinking the company’s share price by forcing Tinkler to sell down his stake and pay back his loans.
There has been speculation he may have refinanced – perhaps with Leucadia, the same New York-based financiers who bailed out Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue when the chips were down – at usurious rates and for a pound of flesh. But the speculation has been just that.
Today the speculation is over. In the NSW Supreme Court today, when it was his chance to settle the largest outstanding claim against him – from Blackwood Corporation, owed $28.4 million - Tinkler’s lawyers were nowhere to be seen.