Legal threat to Caratti farm deal

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Allen Caratti.
Camera IconAllen Caratti. Credit: File

A complex deal that would give the Caratti family control of one WA's most famous farms and allow Elders to walk away from its disastrous foray into forestry is under a cloud after a key shareholder threatened legal action.

The row involves the historic Linkletter's Place farm near Esperance, once owned by US celebrity investor Art Linkletter, and has derailed Elders' plans to shed its cash-burning leases on unviable plantations before the end of the year.

A meeting of Agricultural Land Trust - 52 per cent owned by Elders and related parties - scheduled for today was adjourned at the 11th hour.

Shareholders had been due to vote on a restructure whereby Elders relinquished its shares to hand control of the listed investment vehicle to a company controlled by Allen Caratti.

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It is understood the delay could have ramifications for Elders, which had given banks undertakings on the timeframe for exiting forestry.

ALT chairman Tom Pascarella denied yesterday that the adjournment was a direct result of the threat of an injunction from lawyers representing Ann Cathcart, the fourth-biggest shareholder in ALT.

Stephen Blair, a spokesman for Ms Cathcart, said lawyers wrote to Mr Pascarella on December 6 raising concerns about the independent expert's report that found the proposed restructure was fair and reasonable.

The letter threatened legal action if today's meeting went ahead. It also detailed various unrelated court proceedings and company liquidations involving Mr Caratti and his wife and business partner Tina Bazzo.

A copy of the letter was sent to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Mr Blair and Ms Cathcart are involved in a separate dispute with Mr Caratti over the lease of Young River Station.

Mr Pascarella said many of the concerns about the restructure raised by Mr Blair and lawyer Mark Bland were unfounded. He said the adjournment was "more a coincidence" than a result of the legal threat. "It is complex transaction and we just want to make it is as thorough and comprehensive as possible," he said. "We feel very comfortable that we have addressed all concerns and ASIC and ASX and our responsibilities to ensure a transaction.

"Some complications came up late on Friday and we thought it was prudent to adjourn for 30 days to address that."

Mr Caratti controls about 26 per cent of ALT through three companies and under the proposed restructure would become the biggest unitholder even before he plays a major role in the planned recapitalisation of ALT. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Elders wound up all managed investment schemes associated with more than 42,500ha of plantations, including 33.677ha at Esperance, this year.

Its forestry arm bought Linkletter's Place for $32.5 million in 2005. Gaining control of the property through ALT would push the Caratti family's holding in one of Australia's best farming districts to more than 70,000ha.

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