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The Newcastle-based activist allegedly sent a press release to media outlets claiming ANZ Bank had withdrawn a $1.2 billion loan from Whitehaven's Maules Creek open-cut coalmine on ethical grounds, The Guardian reported.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