Far out Friday: Teen faces fraud and ASIC after prank could have “devastated” Metgasco shares

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A 16-year old Australian could face charges of fraud after her April fool’s day prank was referred to ASIC.

Kudra Falla-Ricketts’ joke could have been “devastating” for shareholders of gas drilling company Metgasco, its CEO Peter Henderson told The Sydney Morning Herald.

He made the comments in response to a fake press release that Kudra sent out on April 1, purporting to be from Henderson on behalf of Metgasco.

The ‘release’ stated the gas drilling giant was pulling out of northern NSW after intense community opposition.

Instead Metgasco would start planning for a solar thermal plant near Casino, it said.

But the release came during an already tense time that’s seen thousands of people attending anti-coal seam gas protests in parts of the state.

In response to the joke, Metgasco was forced to release a statement to ASIC assuring that the email was a hoax and there was no change to its operations in the Clarence-Moreton Basin.

Under the corporation’s law, false or misleading statements can attract a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, a $765,000 fine, or both.

The prank has reminded some of the case of Jonathan Moylan, who sent a fake media release last year that resulted in $314 million being temporarily wiped off Whitehaven Coal’s share value.

The Newcastle-based activist allegedly sent a press release to media outlets claiming ANZ Bank had withdrawn a $1.2 billion loan from Whitehaven's Maules Creek open-cut coalmine on ethical grounds, The Guardian reported.

On an international scale, one of the costliest pranks ever took place in 2004 at the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster; an industrial accident at a Union Carbide plant in India owned by Dow Chemical that killed thousands and created lifelong health problems for many of the community.

The legal battle that ensued was lengthy and controversial, and Dow eventually paid only 15% of the amount originally claimed in the law suit for damages, reported The Crimson.

In 2001, in the midst of this legal controversy, Dow Chemical Company purchased Union Carbide Corporation. After this acquisition, Dow argued that it held no legal responsibility for unresolved lawsuits.

So the world was shocked when suddenly three years later a representative of Dow appeared on the BBC News stating that the company would be liquidating $12 billion worth of assets to compensate the victims of the disaster.

After intense international coverage, a red-faced Dow was forced to issue a press release denying the report and stating that it was all an elaborate hoax.

But the damage was done, and Dow’s share price had already dropped almost 4.5%, losing the company $2 billion.

Notorious political pranksters the Yes Men claimed responsibility for the BBC appearance soon after.

Australian teenager Kudra’s prank was by no means as calculated or professional: the fake press release bore the Metgasco logo but contained errors and was emailed to local journalists using her school email address, reported the Herald.

Kudra didn’t realise how serious the potential repercussions could be until she was called to the principal’s office.

Her father Aidan Ricketts is himself a coal seam gas activist, and said Metgasco’s reaction was “humourless and bullying”.

But CEO Henderson wouldn’t be swayed.

‘‘We understand it’s a practical joke,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t wish any bad things to the young lady, we understand she’s made a mistake, but it was fraudulent.’’
 
  • Adviser B on 4/04/2014 9:29:13 AM

    The media has a role to play in this - why are they publishing press releases without bothering to even determine the source? They are meant to be professionals and do some VERY BASIC checks on the news they receive, but clearly don't bother. Personally, if I got an email from 'cheekybabz98' purporting to be from a large mining company, I would suspect something wasn't quite right. There are a LOT of jokes, spam, chain mails, and all round fakery on the net - for professional media outlets to just publish anything they come across or are sent is a joke - they should be held accountable for publishing fake statements to the public, more so than the prankster.

  • Another Mad Planner on 4/04/2014 10:53:05 AM

    I agree with Adviser B.

    Media are all too busy these days trying to be the first to press with "The industry welcomes this hoax email"

  • Pat on 4/04/2014 1:17:54 PM

    But, journalists nowadays often rely on Farcebook and Twitter as their source.

    It is a sad state when news agencies believe we need to have poor information as soon as it happened rather than verified information some time later.

    It is a sadder state when we, the news consuming public, think it is vital for us to know what is going on as soon as it happens.

    Look at all the misinformation published about that missing plane.

  • The Naked Adviser on 4/04/2014 1:46:25 PM

    Media 101 - care to check the source and try to validate or cross reference. Maybe ASIC should focus on some these cowboys in the Media for a change. Hope to see Media Watch do something on this.

  • Mike on 5/04/2014 12:47:49 AM

    Wouldn't that be typical of ASIC - go after a small target in this case a 16 yoear old schoolgirl who's really protesting something that's being ignored by Gov's and authorities alike, mainly in the name of the powerful dollar interests. Meanwhile ASIC has let the corporate theives rip money off Mum and Dad investors, through corporate fraud, mismanagement malfeasance and regulatory disregard. The likes of Timbercorp, Great Southern, FEA, Wilmots, Gunns, HIH, Westpoint, One Tel, Opes, Storm to name just a few who have cost investors millions and millions of dollars, and not through bad luck. In almost every case there is evidence of fraud, disception, illegal practice and mismanagement. All reported to ASIC. What has ASIC done to get this money back to investors. Nothing. Meanwhile those responsible go on their merry way with fuller pockets and enriched lifestyles, while Mum's and Dad's struggle to get through the havoc reaked on their lives by these perpetrators.

  • Karin Hanna on 6/04/2014 4:46:08 PM

    I agree the Media not checking a press release source, especially on april fools day. In this day & age where everyone can publish anything on social media i think this young girl should be thanked & rewarded for the lesson she has given the media and the business. Why did they not have immediate alerts of the use of their business in the various social fields, they should have been able to respond instantly & put out the fire before it even began.

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