Liquidators expect federal MP Clive Palmer to fight the recovery of assets that could see Queensland Nickel creditors get some of the $200 million they’re owed.
Creditors, including almost 800 sacked refinery workers, voted unanimously on Friday to wind up the company in the hope of clawing back some of their money.
One ex-worker, who didn’t want to be named, had a blunt message for Mr Palmer as he left the meeting: “This is a big f-you to Clive. He’s never cared about what he’s done to us”.
Administrators FTI Consulting were appointed to liquidate Queensland Nickel, after earlier this month saying there was evidence of gross, and possibly criminal, corporate misconduct by Mr Palmer and the company’s sole appointed director, his nephew Clive Mensink.
John Park, from FTI, told creditors to expect a lengthy fight to recover assets, and warned much of that was likely to play out in court.
In his sights are two Palmer-related companies that own Queensland Nickel, and hold assets including the refinery and the land it sits on.
“It’s now time to start to chase the money,” Mr Park told a packed conference room.
But he also questioned what the refinery might be worth, at a time when nickel prices are severely depressed.
“These are difficult assets,” Mr Park said. “Some may say it’s scrap metal, some may say someone will put money in and run it as a going concern.
“Is there enough assets out there to get us $190 million? I’m not an expert, I don’t know.”
Applause erupted in the room when ex-worker David Marks said those who’d lost their jobs would rather see Mr Palmer’s personal assets on the block.
“It would be terrible to cut up Queensland Nickel assets for scrap steel, recover a small amount of money but have it unusable for anyone else,” he said.
“We’d much prefer to be able to sell a few mansions.”
Mr Palmer has denied any wrongdoing and said he was “not at all” worried about personal claims against him, rating their prospects of success as zero.
“The administrators just put their report in so they could get another $5 million fee,” he told AAP.
“That’s how they work.”
He described the situation as a “human tragedy”, largely due to the resources sector worldwide.
“I feel a lot of sympathy for the workforce and the people of Townsville, but they’re not alone.”
Mr Park repeated FTI claims there was strong evidence suggesting Mr Palmer had acted alongside Mr Mensink as a shadow director, and Queensland Nickel was trading while insolvent from November 27 last year or earlier.
But he warned insolvent trading was difficult and expensive to prove, and that would be up to the corporate regulator.
“There are other cherries on the cake that are a bit easier to get to for the benefit of creditors, quickly,” he said.
Mr Park pointed to about $224 million in transfers from Queensland Nickel to other businesses and interests linked to Mr Palmer, but most of those debts were forgiven.
He said those payments could be voided if found not to have been in the best interests of Queensland Nickel, but he had no doubt such moves would be litigated.
FTI had one piece of good news for workers, saying a federal guarantee scheme would cover an estimated $68 million of $74 million in unpaid entitlements.
As for whether the refinery will re-open, Mr Park said that would depend on improvements in the nickel price and someone “coming with an open chequebook” to make it safe.