Deloitte to liquidate dodgy Australian diamond miner

04 October 2019 Consultancy.com.au

Consultants from Deloitte have been tapped to oversee a third high-profile administration in weeks. In the firm’s latest restructuring win, Deloitte Financial Advisory has been appointed by the Federal Court of Australia as a provisional liquidator of Merlin Diamonds.

The appointment comes after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), an independent Australian government body that acts as Australia's corporate regulator, asked the Court to wound up Merlin Diamonds, which is the parent of Merlin diamond mine in the Northern Territory, about 80 kilometres south of Borroloola. 

The Merlin diamond mine was discovered more than 25 years ago, and first went into operation in 2000. Shortly after opening, the site yielded Australia’s largest diamond, a 104.73-carat stone back ten valued at over half-a-million US dollar’s. In 2017, the site also yielded a 35.26-carat rough brown diamond – believed to be the fifth largest stone discovered in the country.

Deloitte to liquidate dodgy Australian diamond miner

Under the ownership of Merlin Diamonds – previous owners include Ashton Mining, Rio Tinto and North Australian Diamonds – the mine’s total production however never reached the targets set. The Merlin diamond mine is currently one of only three diamond mines in Australia, and was set to become Australia’s last operating diamond mine when the Argyle mine in Western Australia ceases operation next year.

In October, ASIC kicked off a probe into a $13 million-loan from the mining group to a private company associated to the diamond producer’s owner. The owner of Merlin Diamonds, mining magnate Joseph Gutnick, had in recent years completed a number of such loans and has proven unwilling or incapable of repaying the loans. 

The instigation came shortly after an arbitration was started in Western Australia and the Northern Territory by former contractors and employees of Merlin Diamonds, who claim that they are owed more than $1.2 million in payments. Shares of Merlin Diamonds were suspended from trading last year after its management failed to file a quarterly report with the Australian Securities Exchange.

Provisional liquidation

Based on ASIC’s claim that there is a “justifiable lack of confidence in the directors’ conduct and their ability to manage Merlin’s affairs in the best interests of its shareholders and creditors”, the Court has pushed Merlin Diamonds into provisional liquidation.

Deloitte Financial Advisory has been tasked with assessing the financial situation, shedding light on the status of the loan portfolio, and drafting a plan on how to redeem stakeholders. Meanwhile, future options for the Merlin Diamonds and the Merlin diamond mine will be explored. 

Earlier this month, restructuring experts from Deloitte were tapped to manage the wind-down of Karen Millen in Australia. The firm’s consultants further played their part in completing the sale of collapsed SME lender Axsesstoday.


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