Chinese hope to snatch beleaguered Australian coal tycoon's assets

As beleaguered Aussie mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler watches his troubles augment, Chinese investors are seeking to take advantage of his travails by salvaging the remains of his crumbled empire.

Fairfax reports that Shenhua Group, China's biggest coal producer, is currently in discussions with Noonday, Tinkler's primary lender, for the sale of the Novocastrian tycoon's 19.4% stake in Whitehaven Coal (ASX:WHC).

Tinkler, who hails from the Australian coastal city of Newcastle, enjoyed a spectacular rise to wealth and prominence via investments in Australia's mining industry, and was listed in 2008 as the country's wealthiest man under the age of 40.

The former electrician has since endured an equally spectacular fall from grace following the accumulation of an exorbitant debt burden. Tinkler's total debts to Noonhall's parent company, US hedge fund Farallon Capital, are around $700 million, with his Whitehaven stake serving as collateral.

The flamboyant mining magnate's broad range of private interests, such as vehicles that own the Newcastle Knights and Newcastle Jets sports teams, are also facing liquidation proceedings at the behest of the Australia tax authorities.

Tinkler's 19.4% stake in Whitehaven was worth AUD$675 million at its Monday closing price of $3.43.

Analysts point out that Shenhua's interests in Tinkler's Whitehaven stake are unsurprising, given that its Maules Creek project in Gunnedah Basin, one of Australia's largest coal deposits, is on the verge of obtaining final approval from the federal government.