Creditors hunt for millionaire’s cash

HE might be one of Australia’s richest men, but Nathan Tinkler has left a trail of debt devastating business owners from the Upper Hunter to Queensland.

The Newcastle Herald spoke to dozens of businesses chasing outstanding debts of more than $1million from Hunter-based Tinkler companies.

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They are ordinary people, the majority mum-and-dad businesses, many individually owed close to $100,000.

Some have been forced to remortgage their homes, increase overdrafts or sell their cars because they have not been paid for work or goods supplied.

A spokesman for Mr Tinkler said last night creditors were paid on an ‘‘ongoing basis, as is done by all businesses’’.

The Herald reported yesterday that Mr Tinkler, the former Muswellbrook mining electrician who now lives in Singapore and who is estimated by BRW as being worth $915million, had failed to meet the superannuation payments of workers at his racing company Patinack Farm, in some instances dating back to last November last year.

Maitland building firm Fraser Commercial was placed in voluntary administration earlier this month with Newcastle building company Bolkm, the construction arm of Mr Tinkler’s Buildev Group, the main debtor.

Mitch Fraser said at one stage Bolkm owed his now defunct company more than $200,000, but he managed to get it down to $33,000.

‘‘This is just the absolute tip of the iceberg, people are too scared to speak out because they are desperately hoping to be paid eventually,’’ Mr Fraser said.

‘‘It is unbelievable that this is happening when you look at Tinkler’s high-rolling lifestyle. He bought the Knights and the Jets, but so many people can’t get paid what they are genuinely owed. It’s just wrong.’’

The Herald can reveal that in the past 10 months seven businesses have successfully taken court action to recoup more than $112,000 in outstanding debts from Bolkm and Patinack Farm.

Mr Tinkler’s spokesman said creditors were being paid and with ‘‘many commercial agreements there are disagreements from time to time’’.

With debts mounting and creditors’ calls going unanswered, angry suppliers and stores have placed stop-credit orders on the companies’ accounts.

Others have employed debt collectors and some negotiated to accept Tinkler-company assets in lieu of payment.

Debts range from $1200 to almost $100,000, with some outstanding for more than a year.

Nearly all of the businesses the Herald spoke to were paid some money initially, with the promise of the rest later.

Many even agreed to enter into payment plans allowing Mr Tinkler’s companies extra time to pay, but too often payments were not received.

Roofer Rob Atherton said that last week he was was out of pocket about $50,000 for work he did for Bolkm.

He has not paid himself for more than a month to make sure his employees’ entitlements are up-to-date.

‘‘They just keep telling you ... that it will be paid on this day and that day, it really pisses you off,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s been an absolute nightmare and a real struggle to keep our heads above water and keep going.’’

For many in the embattled building industry the penny only dropped when the dollars stopped.

‘‘They drip feed people in an effort to keep them quiet and keep things ticking over,’’ a former Tinkler employee said.

‘‘It’s the ones who scream the loudest and threaten to take it further who get paid first, it’s a terrible way of doing business. If a business cuts them off, they just move to the next supplier or subcontractor and it all starts again.’’

Do you know more? Contact dpage@theherald.com.au or call (02) 4979 5976.

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