THE Supreme Court has rejected a ‘‘futile’’ case brought against the corruption watchdog by a mining company that was stripped of its exploration licence after an explosive inquiry.
Listed miner NuCoal had asked the court to strike down an Independent Commission Against Corruption report that found the company’s Doyles Creek exploration licence was ‘‘so tainted by corruption’’ it should be revoked.
The company claimed ICAC did not give ‘‘meaningful consideration’’ to submissions in support of keeping its licence and did not give adequate reasons for its recommendations.
But Justice Stephen Rothman rejected NuCoal’s arguments. He added the case was effectively ‘‘futile’’, because the NSW Parliament had already passed laws revoking the licence without compensation. The High Court upheld the validity of the laws cancelling the licence in April.
The corruption watchdog did not make findings of corruption against NuCoal. However, it found the exploration licence was corruptly awarded to another company, Doyles Creek Mining, in 2008 by former mining minister Ian Macdonald.
NuCoal acquired all of the shares in Doyles Creek Mining in 2010.
In recommending that the licence should be torn up, ICAC said ‘‘a change in shareholding in a company should not immunise the company from the consequences of its improper conduct or that of its directors’’.
It suggested innocent shareholders be compensated, but the then premier Barry O’Farrell said ‘‘any investment in the stockmarket is speculative’’ and no compensation would be granted.
Justice Rothman said: ‘‘Parliament, not the Commission, has determined that if NuCoal be innocent, it ought not to be compensated.’’
Two of Doyles Creek’s former directors, Mike Chester and Andrew Poole, were installed on the board of NuCoal after the share sale. Both were found corrupt over the grant of the licence, although no charges will be laid against the men.
Counsel for NuCoal, Neil Williams, SC, told the Supreme Court during the hearing last year that the company had taken the action to vindicate its reputation.
Gordon Galt, the chairman of NuCoal, said the company would ‘‘review Justice Rothman’s findings in detail before considering whether or not to appeal’’. ‘‘The company continues to focus on its pursuit of justice under various free trade agreements,’’ he said.