Australian regulator probes hoax Whitehaven Coal media release

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is investigating whether a protest group has broken the law by producing a fake press release that led to Whitehaven Coal shares slumping by almost 9%.

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The protest group, Front Line Action on Coal, sent a press release on Monday January 7 claiming that ANZ Bank had pulled its A$1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) loan to the miner to develop the Maules Creek semi-soft coking coal project.

The release came from a fake ANZ email address with the bank’s letterhead and the names of actual ANZ corporate staff, according to media reports.

Both Whitehaven and ANZ said on Monday that the release is a hoax.

“ASIC is aware of the hoax press release and, in line with its normal practice, is looking into the matter and has commenced enquiries. We will be speaking to the people involved,” a spokesman for the regulator told Steel First on Tuesday January 8.

“ASIC’s initial enquiries will focus on if there has been a breach of the Corporations Act [on false or misleading statements]. If there appears to be a breach, ASIC will investigate and take timely and appropriate action,” he added.

Whitehaven md Tony Haggarty said the company is looking into any legal action that may be available to it and its shareholders.

“The integrity of the information provided to the public regarding Whitehaven goes to the heart of the market’s integrity and directly affects the price of Whitehaven shares, as well as our many shareholders.

“Whitehaven will liaise with the Australian Securities Exchange and ASIC in relation to [Front Line Action on Coal]’s irresponsible and ill-conceived conduct and trusts those authorities to take the appropriate action,” Haggarty said.