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News types prepare for holy scrolls pilgrimage

5 Dec 2012 THE AGE - BEN BUTLER


LIKE the four worlds depicted in the opening titles of cult Japanese TV show Monkey Magic, the terrain of Uncle Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation have formed again and yet again as endless aeons wheeled and passed.

In the latest tectonic shift gripping the Depression-era press lord's global empire, Australian-born former Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson has been elevated to head of the publishing arm, which is to be split off into a separately listed company.

It's a move that will no doubt cause pilgrims to flood to News Corporation's very own India, New York, to receive the latest versions of the holy scrolls containing the Wisdom of Fox.

Beating the human tide is Eureka Report publisher and ABC TV finance guru Alan Kohler, who CBD hears is already in New York to meet with Guru Thomson.

Kohler's kingdom was folded into Rupert's empire in June, netting him and business partners including Eric Beecher, Mark Carnegie and John Wylie $30 million in cash.

While the power of Kohler is irrepressible, other News types are yet to make the hazardous journey.

For example, Tuesday saw Herald Sun editor-in-chief Phil Gardner hard at work in Melbourne.

Coal play

WITNESSES have been trudging through a Sydney courtroom to give evidence at a NSW corruption hearing that has NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid under the microscope.

But while all eyes at the hearing have been on allegedly dodgy dealings over a related party transaction in which Cascade Coal tried to flog its $1 million coal exploration licence to White Energy for $500 million, another interesting coal deal has surfaced involving the same good folk.

In mid-April 2010, White Energy was being offered the chance to snap up South Australia Coal, owned by Brian Flannery, Travers Duncan, John Atkinson, John Kinghorn and John McGuigan, who were also on the White Board.

Other investors in SA Coal included the now-famous investment banker Richard Poole, the Cascade director who allegedly disguised the payment of $30 million to the family of Obeid.

The corruption inquiry has heard that the valuation of SA Coal early in 2010 was $40 million but White paid at least double that amount later in the year.

"It shot up in value, too," quipped counsel assisting the ICAC inquiry.

Celebrity corner

STEER clear of ICAP's Sydney office on Wednesday if you have a fear of celebrities. A red carpet of famous types is descending on the broker's office for its annual fund-raising shindig, now in its 20th year.

Famous types including Ian 'Dicko' Dickson, former Mrs Russell Crowe Danielle Spencer and Rose Tattoo singer Angry Anderson will mingle with staff dressed as clowns, superheroes and members of Kiss.

It sounds like hell, but CBD is assured it's for a plethora of good causes. ICAP's revenues and broker's commissions on the day are donated to charity, with the shindig raising more than $20 million worldwide last year.

Brown is up

HIGH-profile real estate agent Justin Brown is to be grilled under oath over the collapse of former friend Lance Hodgkinson's property empire after losing a bid to be excused from a public examination.

Liquidator Ozem Kassem of Cor Cordis, who is looking into the collapse of Hodgkinson's Bluestone Property Services, summoned Brown, the chairman of CBRE Residential, to give evidence so that he could be quizzed about $600,000 owed to Bluestone by Brown's company, First Equilibrium.

The debt arises out of a previous court case in which Brown had tried to hold Hodgkinson to a deal thrashed out at the Lord Dudley Hotel in Sydney suburb Paddington back in 2005.

Under the deal, Hodgkinson and his business partner Daniel Hausman were to buy Brown out of developments they were working on together, including the Chevron nightclub site in Melbourne.

Sadly, the NSW courts held the one-page document signed on the day wasn't legally enforceable, and ordered First Equilibrium to pay Bluestone $600,000.

Brown told the Supreme Court it would be wrong to haul him into the witness box because he had already given evidence about the collapse, and said that if there were to be an examination it should be limited to his personal financial affairs.

Last Tuesday, NSW Supreme Court Justice Richard White dismissed Brown's application and awarded costs against him.

Better luck in the courts for former health minister Michael Wooldridge, Victorian Liberal Party heavyweight Peter Clarke and other directors of Australian Property Custodian Holdings, which ran the failed Prime Trust retirement village group.

On Tuesday, the Victorian Supreme Court's Justice Ross Robson ruled the directors don't have to file full defences against an action brought by the company's receiver if doing so would tend to expose them to a civil penalty.

This is because the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is running just such a civil penalty case in the Federal Court over the same $33 million transaction that is at issue in the Supreme Court.

Got a tip? bbutler@fairfaxmedia.com.au