Yesterday it was announced that the Bakrie Group, one of Indonesia's most controversial and richest conglomerates, has signed a heads of terms agreement that sets out conditions for the Bakrie's withdrawal from London-listed coal miner Bumi Plc. Bumi Plc, having the largest coal deposits in Indonesia at its disposal, was established in 2010 by British financier Nathaniel Rothschild and the Bakrie Group to bring coal assets to European investors.
The founders of Bumi Plc thought they had established a highly lucrative deal in 2010 by connecting huge coal resources in Indonesia to European investors' appetite for undervalued coal assets. Vallar Plc, Rothschild's investment vehicle, bought stakes (worth US $3 billion) in two Indonesian thermal coal producers that were controlled by the Bakrie Group i.e. Berau Coal and Bumi Resources. Part of the deal was that Vallar Plc would be renamed Bumi Plc, and that the Bakrie Group would hold a 23.8 percent stake in the London-listed venture. Thus, an unique cooperation between an European banking dynasty and a leading Indonesian conglomerate was established. A cooperation that resulted into a venture that was labelled as 'the world's largest exporter of thermal coal to China and India.'
However, the venture never really took off. Amid global turmoil - and a significant decline in coal demand from China - global coal prices fell, turning coal assets in unpopular investments. Moreover, the Bakrie Group does not enjoy a clean reputation. A number of Indonesian companies under its holding are linked to fraud practices (e.g. tax evasion) and other scandals (e.g. the mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java). The group is a family-run business that was established in 1942 by Achmad Bakrie and continued by his three sons. One of these sons is Aburizal Bakrie who has been active in Indonesian politics for almost a decade on ministerial posts and as chairman of Golkar, one of Indonesia's largest political parties. Currently, Aburizal targets to win the 2014 presidential elections as Golkar's nominee. However, he does not enjoy much popular support and, based on results of recent surveys, has a slim chance to win the elections. Although Indonesian politics is influenced by money (of which he contains ample supplies) and collusive networks, the position of president is directly chosen by the people and thus makes it difficult to be elected through money-politics.
Problems at Bumi Plc started last year, when Rothschild accused the Bakrie Group of bad corporate governance and resigned from Bumi Plc's board. The Bakries responded by denying the allegations and saying that Rothschild's information came from a hacked email message. In the end, both sides accused each other of betraying shareholders and started to look for ways to separate.
After various structures (of separation) were proposed and denied, there seems to be agreement about the current proposal. This proposal (made by the Bakries) involves a share swap in combination with a share sale, all in effort to regain their assets in Bumi Resources - considered as the jewel in the Bakrie's business empire. The Bakrie Group will swap its 23.8 percent stake in Bumi Plc for Bumi Plc's 10.3 percent in Bumi Resources. The remaining 18.9 percent of Bumi Plc's stake in Bumi Resources will be sold to the Bakrie Group for US $278 million in cash. The deal also includes the requirement for the Bakrie Group to pay a US $50 million deposit by Friday.
This settlement means that soon both the Bakrie Group and Bumi Resources will be completely separated from London-listed Bumi Plc. The latter will keep its 85 percent stake in Berau Coal Energy.
But this case also shows an example of failure between European and Indonesian corporate cooperation. Beforehand, skeptic voices were heard when the partnership with the controversial Bakrie Group was announced. But there might also be some lack of intercultural understanding between both sides that came to the fore when the first allegation of bad corporate governance was made by Rothschild, and made a joined continuation of its coal assets immediately impossible.