ASIC dismisses Sydney Gas shareholder collusion claims

ALLEGATIONS that Sydney Gas shareholders acted in concert at last year’s AGM have been dismissed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

ASIC yesterday announced in a statement that it had completed an inquiry into material provided by the company’s former legal advisers and found no evidence that control of SGL had been in breach of the Corporations Act.

At last year’s AGM, SGL’s proposed new name, Wollemi Energy, was voted down and non-executive director Robert Carroll was not re-elected to the board. More than 35% of shareholders also voted against the re-election of chairman Michael Knight.

The company had expected all resolutions to pass based on the proxies, but representatives for large blocks of shares showed up in person to stop Carroll's re-election and the name change.

The rebellious shareholders included Chimaera Capital's Ian Pattison, mining investment identity Peter Newton and controversial Malaysian-born businessman Lee Ming Tee.

Their action triggered a call for further board changes, and as a result the existing board resigned en-masse. They were replaced by representatives of major shareholders.

Before departing, the former-board presented the material gathered to ASIC to hold an inquiry.

But now ASIC acting chairman, Jeremy Cooper, said it was apparent that two parties alleged to be associates had voted differently at the AGM.

"Together with the general difficulty of proving that parties are acting in concert, these developments led ASIC to the conclusion that to make any further inquiries would be tantamount to a fishing expedition,” Cooper said.

“As such, we took the view that taking action was not warranted on the available evidence.”

Accordingly, he said ASIC would not further action unless new information came forward.

But the in-fighting and controversies has seen investors lose confidence in Sydney Gas, as its share price plummeted in recent months.

However this week’s all-scrip takeover bid by Queensland Gas Company could give worried Sydney Gas shareholders a way out of the current crisis enveloping the company.

AGL valued the embattled firm at A$88 million, a 28% premium to its last trade of 27.5 cents.

The Sydney Gas board is still considering the offer.