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Bumi Plc chairman hints he could step down soon

Samin Tan, an Indonesian major shareholder of Bumi Plc and Borneo Lumbung Energy and Metal speaks during an interview in Jakarta February 7,
Samin Tan, an Indonesian major shareholder of Bumi Plc and Borneo Lumbung Energy and Metal speaks during an interview in Jakarta February 7,

By Clara Ferreira-Marques

LONDON (Reuters) - Indonesian coal tycoon Samin Tan suggested on Sunday that he could step down as chairman of London-listed miner Bumi Plc once the company had resolved a "critical period" of tension between major shareholders.

Bumi Plc, one of the world's largest thermal coal exporters, was created by financier Nat Rothschild and Indonesia's influential Bakrie family to bring promising Indonesian mining assets to London investors.

But after two years of shareholder infighting and tumbling shares, the company faces a bitter battle over its future.

Tan came in as an investor last January, when he pulled the Bakrie family from the brink of default with a $1 billion investment, only to see the value of that bet crumble. Together with the Bakries, he owns 29.9 percent of voting rights in Bumi.

He was appointed chairman in March, but, along with most current directors, Tan has been accused by Rothschild of failing to adequately defend the interests of minority investors.

"Both the board and I see the need for the chairman to stay on through this critical period; however, I do not intend to stay as chairman any longer than the company needs me to," he said in emailed comments.

A departure, however, is not imminent. "The board and I believe that I have to lead Bumi through this period on behalf of the shareholders who have lost so much through the poor behavior of others," he said.

Tan did not specify the "critical period" in question.

Bumi is due to hold a shareholder vote late next month which - if a motion proposed by Rothschild is successful - could oust the 12 of 14 board members including Tan.

CHOICE AHEAD

Co-founder Rothschild's plan for Bumi - a proposal intended to counter Bakrie plans to unwind the London venture - includes a virtually new board, with Wal King, former boss of Australian contractor Leighton Holdings , as independent chairman.

Bumi Plc said last week that the February vote would offer shareholders a choice between the Rothschild plan and the board's own efforts to keep the coal miner alive.

There are concerns that Rothschild's planned new board - which would include Rothschild himself - could sabotage efforts by the coal miner to split with the Bakrie family and start afresh, given the bitter rivalry between the one-time partners.

Rothschild has dismissed worries that his plan to bring in a new board would cause delays that might harm other shareholders. The financier, who has criticized claims from Tan's camp that the Bakries could compensate him for losses related to the Bumi investment, on Sunday welcomed the potential change.

"I am delighted to hear that Samin Tan is packing his bags. He will be gone before the shareholder meeting. There are 11 more directors we need to remove," Rothschild said.

He reiterated calls for Bumi's board to publish an independent legal report into potential financial wrongdoing at the group's Indonesian operations.

"The truth must out come and we must get our money back."

The Bakries, who announced in October that they planned to draw a line under the London venture and buy back the operational assets, are expected to detail their plan soon.

All sides agree that the Bakries should carry out the first stage of their dissolution plan, which involves the Bakries exiting their Bumi shareholding and taking back a minority stake in miner Bumi Resources currently held by Bumi Plc. That would be partly in exchange for their Bumi Plc shares.

But key shareholders and the current board do not agree on the exact mechanics, price, timing - or on what follows.

Bumi Plc declined to comment. It was not immediately possible to reach representatives for the Bakrie family.

(Reporting by Clara Ferreira-Marques. Editing by Jane Merriman and Maureen Bavdek)

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