Clive Palmer is fighting a Supreme Court bid by liquidators to claw back $200 million over the failure of QN. (AAP: Jono Searle)
Clive Palmer paid just $1 for his Queensland Nickel (QN) business seven years before it collapsed over fatal cashflow problems, a liquidator has told a court in Brisbane.
- Kelly Anne-Trenfield, one of the liquidators suing Mr Palmer and his companies, brought up the $1 price tag in cross-examination
- Administrators and liquidators of QN have denied repeated suggestions by Mr Palmer and his companies’ lawyers that they missed opportunities to save QN in 2016
- Clive Palmer denies any wrongdoing or liability
The apparent peppercorn price the billionaire paid for the Townsville refinery in 2009 was revealed for the first time in Supreme Court proceedings today.
Mr Palmer was absent from Friday’s proceedings due to illness.
Liquidators claim Mr Palmer misused QN funds, including by funnelling millions of dollars to his relatives and unrelated business interests, and that he and his companies are liable for QN’s debts.
Mr Palmer denies any wrongdoing or liability.
Kelly-Anne Trenfield, one of the liquidators suing Mr Palmer, his associates and companies to claw back $200 million from QN’s 2016 demise, brought up the price tag in cross-examination.
Mr Palmer had previously declined to say how much he paid to take the nickel operation off BHP Billiton’s hands, but reportedly said it was below its $2.5 billion replacement cost.
Lawyers for liquidators, including those appointed by the Commonwealth to recover about $66 million it paid out for laid-off worker entitlements, have said the operation made losses for more than half of Mr Palmer’s seven-year ownership of the refinery.
Chris Ward, barrister for Mr Palmer’s companies, asked Ms Trenfield: “Are you sure … that Mr Palmer paid $1 for the refinery?”
Ms Trenfield replied: “That’s the anecdotal information I received. I know he [Mr Palmer] took on [other financial] obligations with that”.
QN failed to generate ‘concrete’ funding options
Ms Trenfield, one of four administrators and later liquidators of QN, has denied repeated suggestions by Mr Palmer and his companies’ lawyers that they missed opportunities to save the company in early 2016.
She told the court that QN had failed to generate “concrete” funding options before a world nickel price crash and an unpaid multi-million-dollar debt to key creditor Aurizon eventually forced its hand.
Clive Mensink is now a fugitive overseas wanted in Australia for questioning over the company’s collapse. (AAP Image/Supplied by Crook Group)
Ms Trenfield said administrators had no option but to sack QN’s remaining 550 workers in March 2019, after Mr Palmer’s joint venture companies seized control of the refinery through another company and were unable to offer transfer of the employees.
The administrators rejected demands from QN managing director Clive Mensink to hand over the company’s cash in the bank as an undertaking to cover administrators’ costs was “worthless”, she said.
Mr Mensink is now a fugitive overseas wanted in Australia for questioning over the company’s collapse.
Ms Trenfield said the administrators had repeatedly flagged the need for cash injection from Mr Palmer’s QN joint venture companies but to no avail.
In January 2016, accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers wrote to Mr Mensink that: “We have made calls to targeted alternative debt funds”.
But Ms Trenfield said that no funding offers were “concrete or likely to eventuate in the short term”.
Mr Ward said: “Nothing is ever definite until it’s signed, is it?”
“No, exactly,” Mr Trenfield replied.
Request for ‘urgent’ $10 million loan
The court heard QN administrators asked the Queensland Government on February 22, 2016 for an “urgent” $10 million short-term loan to withstand its cashflow shortfall.
But the administrators baulked at conditions set by the Government, particularly around environmental remediation at a facility then in disrepair.
In March 2016, administrators wrote to the office of then-state treasurer Curtis Pitt that it set out “a number of requirements that unfortunately time does not allow to progress given the cash position of Queensland Nickel”.
Mr Palmer’s absence on Friday came days after Justice Debra Mullins gave him a dressing down over his failure to turn up each day as other self-represented litigants did.
Justice Mullins also rebuked the billionaire on Thursday over delays in getting a replacement witness after his first choice insolvency expert fell ill.
She repeatedly shut down Mr Palmer’s lines of questioning to Ms Trenfield, a key witness, in cross-examination, saying he was repeating himself.
The court heard on Friday Mr Palmer and his companies had secured a third choice insolvency expert, after their second choice was in Brazil.
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