Feb. 21 - It's a public showdown between a UK financier and his one-time partners. Nat Rothschild set up coal miner Bumi with Indonesia's politically-connected Bakrie family to bring Indonesian assets to London investors, but the partnership soured. Rothschild has been trying to get shareholder support to oust the current board. Ivor Bennett reports.
It was a battle of the billionaires. On one side - one of Europe's richest families. On the other - one of Asia's most powerful. Financier Nat Rothschild was taking on Indonesia's Bakrie family for control of troubled miner BUMI. His plan was to oust the current board. SOUNDBITE (English) BUMI CO-FOUNDER NAT ROTHSCHILD SAYING: "I think we're going to get an enormous amount of support. It's very exciting." But the coup wasn't to be. Bumi's shareholders voted against Rothschild's proposals, meaning the current board will stay put and the Bakries will get their exit. They set up BUMI with Rothschild in 2010, hoping to bring Indonesian coal to international investors. But the honeymoon didn't last long. The founders fell out within months, leading to public accusations of fraud and telephone hacking. The Honourable Artillery Company headquarters made a fitting venue for the final showdown. SOUNDBITE (English) REUTERS REPORTER IVOR BENNETT SAYING: "This meeting was supposed to put the company back on track. But this has been one of the ugliest boardroom battles London's ever seen and the damage may have already been done." Bumi's shares have tanked nearly 70 percent since the company listed in 2011. Reuters mining correspondent Clara Ferreira-Marques. SOUNDBITE (English) REUTERS MINING AND STEEL CORRESPONDENT, CLARA FERREIRA-MARQUES, SAYING: "It's clearly been very damaging to everyone involved. I mean It's been damaging to Nat Rothschild who's invested personally, both in cash and in sort of personal commitment, he's fronted this campaign. It's been damaging to the Bakries, who've been really exposed to the London limelight. It's been damaging to the company. The corporate and PR campaign that they'll have to wage after this is very significant. It's been damaging to Indonesia, clearly and to London." Despite the defeat, Rothschild thinks some of his suggestions will be taken on board. SOUNDBITE (English) BUMI CO-FOUNDER NAT ROTHSCHILD, SAYING: "I think the number of minority shareholders who have voted in our favour if you take out the Bakrie votes and my votes is about 4 to 1 in favour of our proposals and I think the board irrespective of the result will have to adopt many of the proposals and the suggestions." Rothschild may have lost this battle, but you get the sense the war's not over yet.