Federal MP Clive Palmer was the final approver for millions of dollars of spending at the Queensland Nickel refinery near Townsville, according to documents seen by the ABC’s Four Corners program.
The revelation comes as authorities investigate whether Mr Palmer was acting as a shadow director.
Four Corners has investigated the involvement of Mr Palmer in purchasing decisions at times when he was not a listed director of Queensland Nickel.
Most of the approvals are received from Mr Palmer’s email alias, Terry Smith.
• An $8 million contract for haulage and mining works
• A $6.3 million nickel mining contract
• A $1 million approval to operate turbo mist fans
• A $680,000 contract for a new SAP finance system
• A $394,000 contract with Microsoft
Mr Palmer was also involved in the approval or rejection of small purchases, including:
• $3,546 for lubrication oil
• $13,113 for a portable gas analyser
Mr Palmer also refused expenditure on a maintenance inspection of the refinery’s oil pipeline, which runs underground for 25km to the Townsville port.
From his “Terry Smith” email address, Mr Palmer instructed staff at the refinery to delay the inspection so it was extended to four years since the last test, instead of three.
He ordered the change despite being warned by Queensland Nickel’s procurement director, Mr Palmer’s nephew, Martin Brewster that the move was risky.
Mr Palmer says he was just one member of the refinery’s expenditure committee, but Four Corners understands he was the final approver, and had veto rights over spending.
His involvement in the operation of the plant includes the past three years, during his time as the federal member for the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax, when he claimed to be retired from business.
“I retired from the operations in 2013 and went into federal parliament,” Mr Palmer said earlier this year.
Queensland Nickel was placed in voluntary administration in January and more than 700 workers have since lost their jobs.
Authorities investigating Palmer’s role in company
ASIC and Queensland Nickel administrators are investigating whether Mr Palmer was operating as a shadow, or de facto director. They are also considering whether the company traded while insolvent, an act for which a shadow director can be found liable.
The administrator’s final report is due within days, ahead of a vote by creditors on whether to place Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd in liquidation.
If that happens, the $60 million bill for worker redundancy entitlements could fall to the Federal Government.
Four Corners asked the managing director of Queensland Nickel, Clive Mensink, if his uncle Mr Palmer was operating as a shadow director.
“Well that’s your opinion in the media, no one else,” he said.
Mr Palmer declined repeated requests for an interview.
Sacked workers from the refinery have told Four Corners that Mr Palmer’s role was well known.
Sam Larkins is owed $60,000 in redundancy entitlements after she was sacked in January.
“How can he get away with this?” Ms Larkins said.
“I mean, the amount of money that he made out of that place, and especially with how much he’s beaten his chest over the last few years about how much money he’s got. Where’s the money, Clive?”
Inter-company payments, donations revealed
Four Corners has also uncovered a string of inter-company payments and donations made by Queensland Nickel to Palmer companies and interests, in the months before the company entered administration.
• A $700,000 donation in February 2015 by Queensland Nickel to the Club de Madrid, a foreign think tank comprised of former world leaders
• $220,000 in January 2015 for advertising firm, Atomic Pixel
• A $2.5 million transfer in July 2014 to Palmer’s other company Mineralogy
• A $67,000 payment in January 2015 for legal fees
• $141,000 in February 2015 paid to Tesla Motors Australia
It is unclear if any of the money was repaid.
Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie said the Queensland Nickel case would bring about the demise of Mr Palmer’s political career.
“Queensland Nickel has poisoned the water and it’s poisoned his perception as a person, it’s ruined that image of a rugged, rough sort of Aussie who speaks the truth,” Mr Beattie said.
“There’s no doubt what you’re seeing now is the political demise of both the Palmer United party and Clive Palmer.”
– with reporting by Hayden Cooper, Justin Stevens and Joel Tozer.