Sydney - Australia's Whitehaven Coal on Monday said it had
been the victim of a hoax after its share price plunged on a fake press release
claiming funding for a major project had been withdrawn.
Whitehaven, whose major shareholder is Singapore-based
Australian millionaire Nathan Tinkler, requested a trading halt after its
shares tanked 8.8%, wiping more than Aus$314m (US$329m) off its value.
The dive followed a media alert around midday on Monday
purporting to be from major lender ANZ bank claiming it had withdrawn Aus$1.2bn
in funding for Whitehaven's flagship Maules Creek mine.
Once trading in the firm was resumed it clawed back most of
the losses to end just 0.57% lower. The S&P/ASX 200 index was off 0.14%.
The press release, which was actually from anti-coal
activists, blamed "reputational risks and analysis of the returns on this
mine in the current climate of high volatility in the coal export market".
Whitehaven issued a statement to the Australian stock
exchange explaining that it was fake.
"Whitehaven Coal Limited has been made aware of a hoax
media release suggesting ANZ has withdrawn its recently announced $1.2bn
banking facility to Whitehaven," the miner said. "There is no
substance to the hoax media release."
ANZ issued a statement confirming it had not issued the
release, which was reported by a number of news outlets.
"This media release is a hoax and was not issued by
ANZ," the bank said.
"There have been no announcements from ANZ regarding
Whitehaven Coal. ANZ remains fully supportive of Whitehaven Coal."
Whitehaven has several operating coal mines in New South
Wales state and exploration assets there and in Queensland.
Its Maules Creek project, which is yet to receive approval
from the Australian government, is expected to commence production this year.
It is set to be one of the world's largest open-cut coal mines.
The activist claiming responsibility for the hoax, Jonathon
Moylan, told Fairfax newspapers he believed the action was warranted.
"We considered the decision to run a spoof very
carefully before we did it, but we believe it is justified," said Moylan
from the Frontline Action on Coal protest group, which is opposed to coal
development in the Maules Creek area.
"Our primary concern is the impact of this mine on the
environment at the end of the day."