The sources say Wesfarmers’ managing director Rob Scott then spoke in person to Lynas chief executive Amanda Lacaze in early February to express an “active interest” in a takeover. Mr Scott later contacted Mr Harding by phone to repeat his interest in Lynas.
Mr Harding responded by saying Lynas was not interested in discussing a takeover and considered the matter closed. Lynas spokeswoman Jennifer Parker said the company “had no reason to believe that Wesfarmers had an ongoing interest in the company”.
On March 1, four board directors purchased $175,000 worth of shares in the miner. The purchase of shares by Philippe Etienne, John Humphrey, Grant Murdoch and Kathleen Conlon – at a price of between $1.62 and $1.70 per share – was publicly disclosed.
When Wesfarmers announced to the Australian Securities Exchange on March 26 that it had made a takeover bid, Lynas shares rose significantly. The stock closed at $2.07 yesterday.
Ms Parker said the Lynas share purchases were made in a “designated trading window” following the release of the company’s mid-financial year update one day earlier.
“Lynas had told Wesfarmers they were not interested in receiving a proposal and understood the matter was closed … Lynas categorically rejects any assertions of impropriety,” she said.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s request concerns information about when Lynas and Wesfarmers were in communication about a takeover and to whom that information went.
Ms Parker said the ASIC request was not unusual in “most” takeovers.
The Herald and the Age is not suggesting any wrongful conduct on the directors’ part.
The takeover bid has been mired in allegations of aggressive and improper behaviour, with supporters of Lynas’ management accusing Mr Scott and Wesfarmers of interfering in regulatory issues between the company and the Malaysian government.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Ms Lacaze suggested Wesfarmers had threatened to put employees out of work after Mr Scott met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
A Wesfarmers spokesperson said: “We understand that it is usual practice for ASIC to make inquiries of parties to publicly announced transactions involving listed companies. We will not be commenting any further.”
ASIC declined to comment.
Kylar Loussikian is The Sydney Morning Herald’s CBD columnist.