Embattled explorer Central Petroleum has rushed forward Richard Cottee's commencement as chief executive as part of plans to deal with a potential ambush from disgruntled shareholder Clive Palmer.
Mr Cottee's surprise official start yesterday - the former Queensland Gas Corp head is still relocating from London - comes more than two weeks ahead of a vote by Central Petroleum shareholders on a lucrative options package that was to guarantee the new chief executive's engagement. It raises the prospect that an adverse shareholder vote to the options package will prompt Mr Cottee to quit just weeks into his $500,000-a-year job.
However, it is understood that Central Petroleum is willing to take its chances because it wants to fast-track talks with potential farm-in partners interested in its extensive central Australia acreage, which is prospective for oil, gas and coal.
The company is also thought to be pushing to have a takeover defence strategy in place should Mr Palmer, a 4.8 per cent shareholder, decide to launch a hostile bid or succeed in his attempt to take control of the board.
Mr Palmer is behind one of two requisitioned shareholder meetings at which dissident investors want to roll the Henry Askin-chaired board. Mr Palmer, who supports sacked Central Petroleum chief executive John Heugh, has put forward three board nominees.
Mr Palmer had tried to strike a farm-in deal when Mr Heugh was still chief executive.But Mr Askin last night described Mr Palmer's farm-in proposal as "substantially" undervaluing Central Petroleum's assets.
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