Despite mounting court battles across the country, NSW sporting teams the Newcastle Knights and Jets have remained relatively immune to Nathan Tinkler’s precarious financial position.
That all changed yesterday when it was revealed the Australian Taxation Office has moved to liquidate eight companies linked to Mr Tinkler, including flagship sports teams in the Hunter, north of Sydney, and their parent company Hunter Sports Group (HSG).
The ATO is seeking more than $3.19 million in unpaid tax from Mr Tinkler’s sports group, including $2.5 million from the Knights and Jets.
With the future of the clubs under a serious cloud, the National Rugby League and Football Federation Australia moved immediately to allay fans’ fears.
Both organisations issued statements yesterday afternoon saying they had been given assurances from HSG the clubs would not be affected.
Hunter Sports Group chief executive Troy Palmer did not respond to calls yesterday.
Above, a video posted on the Knights and Jets websites yesterday afternoon.
Mr Tinkler’s Sydney-based public relations spokesman said HSG was unaware of the proceedings until contacted by the media.
‘‘We are surprised by the move by the ATO, as we have not received notification of this move,” the spokesman said.
“We advise that any outstanding sum will be paid as soon as possible, well before the reported hearing date on the matter next February.’’
Chief executive officers Matthew Gidley and Robbie Middleby took to the clubs’ websites to ensure fans it was business as usual, but refused to answer media inquiries.
Knights super coach Wayne Bennett, who has publicly backed Mr Tinkler in the past, was unaware of the court action yesterday morning and declined to comment.
Documents filed this week in the Federal Court in Sydney show the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation is applying for the wind-up of Hunter Sports Group (owing $184,258), Hunter Valley Sports Group (owing $524,226), Newcastle Jets Football Operations (owing $1.063million) and Newcastle Knights (owing $1.424million).
According to the court documents, four separate letters demanding payment were sent by the ATO to the registered Queensland address of HSG, Hunter Valley Sports Group, the Knights and the Jets in September.
The Herald visited the address, which is the Tinkler Group headquarters in Queen Street, Brisbane, yesterday and found it open and staffed.
The ATO has also applied to wind up four other Tinkler-related companies, including troubled Newcastle developer Buildev Group (owing $162,164), Buildev Development QLD (owing $111,535), BD (QLD) Project G075 (owing $218,794) and Buildev Aviation (owing $132,103).
The matters are listed to be heard in the Federal Court in Sydney on February20 and 22.
Mr Tinkler’s finances have been under increasing scrutiny for more than a year, after two of his companies were placed in liquidation and his private jet and helicopter were repossessed last month.
This year alone companies linked to the former billionaire have been involved in more than 20 legal disputes over unpaid debts.
The Newcastle Herald reported in September that the Knights’ and Jets’ suppliers and medical providers had joined a growing list of Hunter businesses chasing money from Tinkler companies.
Despite mounting speculation about his financial position, the Tinkler Group has refused to acknowledge there are any problems.
When Patinack Farm Administration – the main employer at Mr Tinkler’s thoroughbred stud, which also owes millions to the ATO – was placed in liquidation after a $17,000 debt to South Australia’s Workcover agency, the situation was blamed on an ‘‘administrative error’’.
Mr Tinkler was at one point Australia’s youngest billionaire. But his main asset, a 19.4per cent stake in miner Whitehaven Coal, has halved in value since April, when the shares peaked at $5.58 and it was worth $1.1 billion. There is speculation that Mr Tinkler owes as much as $700 million to lenders.
The Hunter Valley Sports Group, whose sole director is Mr Tinkler’s right-hand man Mr Palmer, owns 100per cent of Newcastle Jets Football Operations and 99per cent of the Newcastle Knights (the Knights’ members club owns 1per cent).
Mr Tinkler is a director of Hunter Sports Group, which owns the Hunter Valley Sports Group outright.
A dispute between Mr Tinkler and former business partner Matthew Higgins over coal royalty payments is due to be heard in the Brisbane Supreme Court this morning.