How the 'rats' fled in last days of the fertiliser king

27 Apr, 2011 01:21 PM
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Pankaj Oswal
Pankaj Oswal

PANKAJ Oswal was oblivious to signs not only that he had lost the support of a major financier but that his key lieutenants were distancing themselves from their benefactor, reports The Australian Financial Review .

On an otherwise pleasant summer day in Melbourne, ANZ Banking Group's chief risk officer, Chris Page, made a series of frustrated calls to chief executive Mike Smith.

Smith had left clear instructions to close out the company's $800 million-plus exposure to the increasingly unpredictable fertiliser tycoon Pankaj Oswal.

The newspaper has pieced together crucial events in Oswal's last days at the helm of the Pilbara-based ammonia plant, which shows a brazen entrepreneur oblivious to signs he had not only lost the support of financier ANZ but that his four key lieutenants were distancing themselves from their benefactor.

The day after receivers seized control of Oswal's stake in Burrup, the Indian tycoon sent an email to his lieutenants accusing them of being "rats".

After years of gift giving, Oswal believed he had bought absolute allegiance.

"He demanded loyalty," says one person close to the company. "The expectation was that everyone would resign and go with him."

Burrup Fertilisers is largely run by four key people – Wolfgang Jovanovic, Vinojit Ambalavaner, Basil Lenzo and Raj Jeyarajah – often referred to by Burrup's inner circles as the "four mosquitoes" for their proximity to Oswal.

The argument goes that various company officers did their jobs to the best of their abilities but, ultimately, the majority shareholder, who was also chief executive, did what he wanted.

Burrup's receivers now allege that more than $100 million flowed out of the company into Oswal's private interests, with sources close to the company claiming Oswal personally directed the payments.

Jeyarajah, Burrup's director of finance, says the key staff were well aware of their responsibilities.

The Australian Financial ReviewSource: http://www.afr.com

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