In first public comments, Noble chairman rejects improper accounting allegations

SINGAPORE (Reuters, Bloomberg) - Noble Group founder Richard Elman said he rejected all allegations made by an anonymous group calling itself Iceberg Research as inaccurate, unreliable and misleading, in his first public comments on the issue.

Noble's method for booking debt and profit from projects not yet in production was questioned this year in three reports by Iceberg. Hong Kong-based GMT Research and Muddy Waters, founded by short-seller Carson Block, added to the critique.

"Nothing we have done has violated accounting rules," Elman, who is now chairman, said at an annual general meeting of shareholders in Singapore on Friday. The company will challenge the Iceberg claims in court and the Muddy Waters report "barely dignifies a response," he said.

Noble has linked Iceberg to an employee it fired in 2013 and started legal action against him in Hong Kong.

The company has "more than enough" liquidity to cover any liabilities and a "conservative" debt maturity profile, Noble said in a presentation on its website posted Friday ahead of the Singapore meeting. The presentation reiterated earlier comments from Noble.

Noble's shares had slumped 27 per cent, or $2.16 billion, by the close of trading in Singapore on Thursday since Iceberg's first report on Feb. 15. The Singapore-listed shares have also been hit by a quarterly loss.

The stock rose 2.3 per cent to 90 cents at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. The benchmark Straits Times index was little changed.

Elman, a former scrap-yard worker who dropped out of school at 15, built Noble into Asia's largest commodity trading company by revenue. He worked at another trader Phibro before setting up his own firm with US$100,000 in savings in Hong Kong.

"It has been a difficult few weeks," Elman told shareholders on Friday. He remains Noble's biggest shareholder with about 21 per cent of stock, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China Investment Corp., the nation's sovereign wealth fund, owns 9.4 per cent. Noble listed in Singapore in 1997.

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