Palmer claims QN judgment as a win

A judge has dismissed a liquidator's $102 million claim against Clive Palmer's flagship company.
A judge has dismissed a liquidator's $102 million claim against Clive Palmer's flagship company.

Outspoken billionaire businessman Clive Palmer has thwarted a liquidator's bid to claw back more than $100 million over his failed nickel refinery.

However, Justice Deborah Mullins found Queensland Nickel refinery traded insolvently in the days before administrators were called in to oversee the cash-strapped company.

This decision could open the way for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to prosecute the directors under the Corporations Act.

Justice Mullins also found that $135 million worth of share transactions between QN and two of Mr Palmer's companies - China First and Waratah Coal - in the days before the refinery collapsed in 2016 were invalid.

The judgment handed down in the Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday concludes the massive trial.

However, a battle over costs and penalties is likely.

It took more than two years for government-appointed liquidators of QN to bring Mr Palmer to trial.

The former federal MP fought hard to have the claim dismissed, describing it as baseless and a desperate, politically motivated attack.

The liquidators initially sought to recover about $200 million owed to creditors when the Townsville refinery collapsed, leaving hundreds without a job.

Their 280-page claim, lodged in June 2017, named 21 defendants including Mr Palmer's flagship company Mineralogy and his nephew Clive Mensink, who was the sole director of QN when it collapsed.

Mr Palmer settled most of the claims against him and the other defendants during the trial, including reimbursing $66 million in taxpayer funds used to pay sacked workers.

The deals, worth about $130 million, also secured the full recovery of the majority of debts owed to unsecured creditors and settled an $88 million Aurizon claim for about $18 million.

That left $102 million on the table, which the liquidators alleged was payable for a series of unrepaid loans from QN to Mineralogy.

But Justice Mullins rejected the claim saying the transactions were payments from QN's joint venture companies to Mineralogy, not QN.

"It follows the plaintiffs' claims against Mineralogy whether claimed as a debt, moneys lent or moneys paid must be dismissed," she said.

The liquidators were successful, however, over the China First and Waratah Coal transactions, which they claimed were uncommercial.

QN had no money or assets to pay for the shares, and the agreement had one purpose, which was to prefer Mr Palmer's interests over those of unsecured creditors, their lawyer said during the trial.

Outside of court, a jubilant Mr Palmer claimed the Mineralogy decision as a win, saying the liquidator may have a compensation case to answer.

"I'm considering a $50 million action against John Park and the overseas liquidator funder Vannin Capital Operations Limited,'' he said in a statement.

"The lies against me are unprecedented in Australian history. The stand I have taken was to not allow evil to triumph."

In a statement, the liquidators said they were reviewing the judgment before making their next move.

The question of penalties over the China First and Waratah Coal decision and the costs of the trial will be determined at a later date.

ASIC declined to comment.

Australian Associated Press