Noble Group has sued a former employee that it fired in 2013 and another entity for conspiracy to injure the commodities trading giant by anonymously spreading false and misleading information, according to a lawsuit filed with Hong Kong’s High Court on Monday, March 23.
Arnaud Vagner and Enlighten Ace Ltd have conspired to drive Noble’s share price down and damage the company’s business, Noble said in the court document, a copy of which was seen by Metal Bulletin.
Vagner was a credit analyst at Noble from April 18, 2011 and his employment was terminated with cause on June 6, 2013, Noble said. Seychelles special purpose vehicle Enlighten Ace set up the blog Iceberg Research, which has alleged that Noble overstated profit and understated debt among other financial irregularities via three reports.
Shares of Noble have fallen almost 30% since the first Iceberg report was released in mid-February, losing about S$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in market value. On Monday, at 1608 Singapore time, Noble shares had recovered some of their losses and were up 4% at S$0.91.
"We reject their allegations as inaccurate, unreliable and misleading," Noble said in a statement earlier on Monday, two days after Iceberg Research alleged the company had understated its gross and net debt.
Noble has claimed that the defendants, Vagner and Enlighten Ace, conspired and combined together “in and around January 2015 wrongfully and with the sole or predominant intention of injuring the plaintiff and/or causing loss to the plaintiff by damaging and/or destroying the Plaintiff’s business as a result of which the Plaintiff has suffered loss and damage.”
Noble is seeking unspecified damages, interest and costs and also an injunction restraining the defendants from publishing “any further false and misleading statements” about the trading company.
Iceberg Research said in an email with a gmail.com domain name to Metal Bulletin: “We consulted with our lawyer and we are extremely confident.”
“Iceberg's research is based on public information released by Noble,” it added.
It declined to confirm particulars and the linkage between Vagner, Enlighten and Iceberg.
“We do not give information on particular members, or non-members at this stage,” Iceberg said, adding: “What matters is the strength of the arguments.”
Earlier today, Iceberg Research wrote on Twitter: "Legal gesticulations will not hide the fact that Noble is unable to come up with a rebuttal for our third report. What does it mean?"
In the past, Iceberg has said: "We have stayed anonymous because we want people to focus on the strength of the arguments. It does not matter who is behind Iceberg if the arguments are solid."
The case is between Noble Group Ltd and Arnaud Vagner, Enlighten Ace Ltd, HCA 594/2015, in Hong Kong Court of First Instance.
Reed Smith Richards Butler are the law firm representing Noble Group.