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Former Mitsui boss denies insider trading

A former executive of Mitsui’s Australian energy arm bought shares in one of its Queensland coal seam gas partners while helping a Perth company planning a takeover bid, a Supreme Court jury was told yesterday.

It was alleged that Steven Noske bought shares in Queensland gas play Westside Corporation in February 2012, while helping suitor Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd (LNGL) suss out Mitsui’s likely reaction to a planned bid for Westside.

“The attitude of Mitsui was of critical importance to LNGL,” prosecutor Sam Vandongen said.

Mr Noske has pleaded not guilty to a charge of insider trading by buying 750,000 Westside shares in the days after a series of communications with LNGL chief executive Maurice Brand.

Perth-based LNGL desperately needed supply for its Gladstone port gas plant and was conducting due diligence in early February 2012 about a potential takeover of Westside.

Prosecutors claim Mr Brand recruited Mr Noske as a consultant shortly after he left Mitsui in August 2011.

Mr Brand spoke to Mr Noske on February 2, 2012, after LNGL had lodged an indicative takeover proposal with Westside set about 65¢-a-share.

Mr Vandongen said Mr Brand was expected to testify he told Mr Noske that LNGL was moving to acquire Westside.

Mr Vandongen said Mr Noske emailed Mr Brand that Mitsui would likely push back strongly and that “you should have plans to move aggressively”. “I see control of Westside as key,” Mr Noske allegedly wrote.

The next morning Mr Noske ordered his stockbroker to buy shares in Westside, Mr Vandongen told the jury.

Prosecutors said Westside shares rose through the week from around 27¢ to 33.5¢ as the buy order was executed.

The shares surged to about 54¢ the following week after Westside responded to a share price query with confirmation it had been approached by a suitor.

Defence lawyer Tom Percy told the jury that Mr Noske did not know about the alleged takeover proposal by LNGL, which had very little cash.

Mr Percy said Mr Noske, a regular investor with strong knowledge of Queensland gas, decided to buy Westside after returning from overseas and reading a positive quarterly.

“He didn’t need minnows moving to take over giants to inspire him,” said Mr Percy, who denied Mr Noske was a consultant to LNGL at the time.

The trial continues today.

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