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One-time billionaire Nathan Tinkler continues to flout the law, as his many creditors remain no closer to seeing their money. By Max Opray.

Tinkler tale a solvent lie

They say familiarity breeds contempt, which perhaps explains Nathan Tinkler’s apparent disdain for the judicial system. Australia’s briefest-ever billionaire has been such a regular fixture in the courts in recent years that Monday’s ordering of an arrest warrant was something of an inevitability. Dozens of court actions have been brought against Tinkler’s 100-plus corporate entities, most of which are practically worthless if not completely insolvent. The problem is usually unpaid debts – to employees, subcontractors, suppliers, business partners, the tax office, councils, doctors, bookies, sheikhs, and so on. Reneging on payments has been a core part of Tinkler’s business model since he started out as an ambitious young Hunter Valley electrician. 

Business journalist Paddy Manning’s unauthorised biography, Boganaire: The Rise and Fall of Nathan Tinkler, paints a picture of a man who was perfectly pleasant to the people he needed and utterly unpleasant the second they were no longer of use. One of his more notorious outbursts was directed at a former employee who claimed to be merely texting Tinkler to suggest they catch up for a coffee.

“Ur just another cunt that I give an opportunity to, wasn’t up to it and dogged me everywhere so fuck off,” Tinkler replied. “I check the papers for your funeral notice you fuckn deadbeat.” 

The heavyset 39-year-old first rose to the top courtesy of a shrewd and well-timed coal investment in 2006 that would end up netting him nearly half a billion dollars. He quickly set about wasting his good fortune, and then remarkably made it all back from a second coal venture at Maules Creek, only to lose it once again as his spending skyrocketed and the coal price collapsed. He’s shrugged off climate change on the basis he won’t live long enough to have to deal with the consequences, fronted up to corruption inquiries over construction projects and even found time to destroy entire football clubs, but it would be a relatively minor dispute over horses that left Tinkler with an arrest warrant hanging over his head. 

When Tinkler failed to show at the Supreme Court of South Australia on Monday, regarding $5.5 million owed by his liquidated Patinack Farm thoroughbred breeding and racing operation, Mark Douglas, lawyer for the plaintiff, did not seem surprised. Forget about getting Tinkler into the courtroom – even finding him in order to deliver the summons in the first place proved a nightmare. Douglas told the court that after six months of fruitless searching in 2014, the official responsible for serving the summons resorted to staking out another trial Tinkler was embroiled in – the New South Wales ICAC hearings, where the former mining magnate was being interrogated over allegedly bribing and intimidating politicians into backing a Newcastle coal loader that never ended up coming to fruition. If the official lying in wait with the Patinack Farm summons had been listening in, they would have heard the thoroughbred business get a mention there as well. It was alleged Patinack Farm was used to funnel money on behalf of Buildev, the Tinkler company that was to build the coal loader, as a way to get around the ban on developers donating to political parties.

Finally presented with the summons for yet another legal battle, Tinkler was thus expected to appear in the Adelaide court in March, but he made a last-minute deal with liquidator Anthony Matthews and Associates. That deal fell apart and the court date was back on, this time for July 20. When Monday morning finally arrived, instead of boarding a plane to South Australia, Tinkler decided to sack his lawyers and see if someone else could do a better job. One great benefit of failing at so many different things in his life was the wide variety of interesting and useful acquaintances Tinkler made along the way. This week, it was Adelaide corporate lawyer Greg Griffin. 

Griffin had been in Tinkler’s corner when the latter was at the helm of the Newcastle Jets. The chairman of fellow A-League soccer team Adelaide United, Griffin was one of the few club chiefs to support Tinkler through a tumultuous reign that terminated in May with the Jets plunged into administration, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to players and staff. The Jets were in an even worse state than that in which Tinkler left another of his discarded sporting playthings, the NRL’s Newcastle Knights. Griffin, currently entangled in soccer player pay disputes of his own, is also the founder and managing partner of leading litigation firm Griffins Lawyers – a handy ring-in if you can get him.

Tinkler set his new legal representation to work coming to an alternative agreement with his liquidators, and told News Corp the arrest warrant was an overreaction and the fault of his unreasonable creditors and his own former lawyers.

‘‘I’d been liaising with these guys [liquidators Anthony Matthews and Associates] all last week. I’d offered them security, it was all fine, and then they refused to return my calls this morning and then made that action,” he said. 

The creditors hunting Tinkler this time include the Australian Taxation Office – for unpaid payroll taxes – and WorkCover SA, chasing $16,978 owed to South Australian contractors, a debt that tipped Patinack Farm into insolvency in late 2012. If they ever get their day in court, Anthony Matthews and Associates are understood to have some questions regarding money allegedly transferred to Tinkler Group corporate entities from Patinack Farm before the thoroughbred business was liquidated. Patinack Farm director Troy Palmer and chief financial officer Tony Marshall were also summonsed to the court, however both provided written statements to excuse themselves. 

The thoroughbred business was certainly ailing before it was put down. In November 2012, Tinkler’s horse Nechita won the Coolmore Stud Stakes, following which Patinack Farm head trainer John Thompson gave a candid interview to Sky Sports Radio regarding just how financially tight things had become. 

‘‘Nathan is obviously very wealthy, but it’s all paper sort of value – he has always suffered from owning a business that doesn’t have that cash flow, and it is that cash flow that pays the bills,” he said. “In the last 12 months we have just basically been relying on prizemoney.”

Thompson revealed that the company was so behind in rent payments at its Hawkesbury private training centre they were about to be kicked out, and that at times he’d had to do without vets, bedding, and even feed for the horses. ABC’s Four Corners revealed that Hawkesbury secured its outstanding fees by approaching Racing NSW directly to siphon off prizemoney won by Tinkler’s thoroughbreds. 

It was all a long, long way off Tinkler’s grand vision to dominate the international racing world when he went on a $19 million spending spree for 59 horses at the 2008 Magic Millions sale. In total Tinkler would outlay more than half a billion dollars on the business before auctioning off his 500 accumulated horses for $34 million in October last year, and then selling the land this year to Hong Kong tycoon Tony Fung for $15 million. The liquidators in Adelaide won’t be able to get their hands on the money, however, as it has already gone towards servicing some of Tinkler’s other debts, including $40 million owed to entrepreneur Gerry Harvey. 

With the collapsed coal price and the loss of his most iconic possessions, it is not known how much wealth remains for Tinkler. He is trying to start afresh – based out of Singapore and with a new wife and child – and recently got a gig as a corporate adviser for a small nickel exploration company.

The day of his Adelaide court no-show, removalists were seen at his Queensland residence, prompting fears he was planning to flee the country for good. Tinkler has been spotted in Brisbane since, however. On Wednesday evening he lunged at a News Corp photographer in a car park there. The fracas happened when Tinkler emerged after a few drinks at the Kenmore Tavern, where he is apparently a regular. One wonders if the publican was sufficiently unfamiliar with Tinkler’s credit history to let him set up a tab.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 25, 2015 as "Tinkler tale a solvent lie". Subscribe here.

Max Opray
is an Adelaide-based freelance journalist.

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