Tinkler's shrinking empire

Nathan Tinkler's once billion-dollar mining empire continues to disappear. His former backer, Raymond Zage, is already aggressively seeking to recover what he can from the husk and now another of Tinkler's former partners is following suit.

Nathan Tinkler's once billion-dollar mining empire continues to disappear. His former backer, Raymond Zage, is already aggressively seeking to recover what he can from the husk and now another of Tinkler's former partners is following suit.

A Hong Kong-based trustee company has put a receiver into Tinkler's base metals operations, Aston Metals - the largest remaining mining asset in Tinkler's private group

According to Tinkler, Aston Metals has been a "dormant, speculative investment near Mount Isa by the Tinkler Group and other shareholders". (This is a project that at one time Tinkler thought could be worth $75 million, according to media reports.)

"Our main joint-venture partner, Orchard Capital Partners in Hong Kong, is experiencing financial difficulties in one of its funds and as a result took the unexpected decision to place Aston Metals into receivership."

But there seems to be some dispute over which party is under most intense financial pressure.

Late on Tuesday Orchard Capital hit back at Tinkler saying in a statement: "Aston Metals and Mr Tinkler have received a number of notices over the previous 30 days requesting payment of the debt as per the rights of the secured creditor. This would not be a surprise for Aston Metals or Mr Tinkler."

It appears Orchard Partners is not part of Farallon, nor is the trustee company, Madison Pacific Trust, which is representing it.

It previously has been reported that Farallon was a lender to Aston Metals. This was not denied.

This fresh bout of Tinkler attention comes amid recent suggestions that he was thinking of a corporate comeback, or at least coming out of his self-imposed exile in Singapore. The chatter that Tinkler could re-emerge on the Australian corporate stage is certainly being hosed down by his media adviser.

Conventional wisdom in the business community says Tinkler is financially washed up. But in a March liquidator's examination Tinkler told the court the Tinkler Group Family Trust had assets worth up to $1.4 billion.

Farallon seized control in June of Tinkler's primary asset, a 19 per cent stake in Whitehaven Coal - cystallising a loss on a $US634 million loan to the Newcastle entrepreneur.

It's now about picking over the scraps of Tinkler's remaining assets, the value of which is debatable but could potentially be as much as $50 million - that's considered a glass-half-full valuation.

John Park and Quentin Olde of FTI Consulting were appointed receivers and managers to the Aston Metals Group on Tuesday, a situation that Tinkler's Australian spokesman was not aware of.

The receivers were appointed by Madison Pacific Trust in its capacity as Security Trustee over all the secured property of Aston Metals Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of Aston Copper Pty Ltd and its subsidiary Aston Metals (Qld) Ltd.

Aston Metals is a base metals explorer with tenement holdings in the Mount Isa region of north-west Queensland. Aston Metals has five projects: at Walford Creek, Constance Range, Isa North, Isa West and Isa South.

Isa North, Isa West and Constance Range are joint ventures with listed mining hopeful Summit Resources. In Summit's most recent quarterly report it said the Isa North tenement soil surveys produced only "a low-level copper anomaly".

Isa South is a joint venture between Aston Metals, an unlisted company, Redmetals, and Xstrata but it had not yet been the subject of any exploration.

The highest value Aston Metals' projects seems to be Walford Creek, which underwent successful drilling campaigns a few years ago but is still considered to be fairly low grade and the subject of development opposition from the indigenous community.

That the lender has taken security over Aston Metals is evidence that there is some value in the asset. The receiver will now start the process of looking for a buyer.

Tinkler's ability to stay just out of reach of personal creditors attempting to bankrupt him has become almost as legendary as his ascendancy to billionaire status by the age of 35.

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