Australia activist escapes jail over mine hoax

Sydney (AFP) - An Australian anti-coal activist escaped jail Friday over a fake press release that temporarily wiped more than Aus$300 million (US$282 million) from the share price of mining company.

Jonathan Moylan was charged with contravening the Corporations Act by disseminating false information to the market about Whitehaven Coal in January 2013.

The New South Wales Supreme Court on Friday sentenced him to one year and eight months jail but he was released on a two-year good behaviour bond, a decision greeted with relief by Moylan who apologised to those he hurt.

"Nobody likes to affect people that they don't intend to," the 26-year-old said.

Moylan, from the anti-coal mining group Front Line Action on Coal, allegedly sent a press release in January 2013 purporting to be from major lender ANZ Bank, claiming it had withdrawn Aus$1.2 billion in funding for Whitehaven's flagship Maules Creek mine.

The hoax, which was reported by the media, saw Whitehaven's share price tank 8.8 percent before a trading halt was called.

In sentencing, Justice David Davies said the anti-coal activist, who pleaded guilty, was "not a criminal in the classic sense" and not driven by personal profit.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) said confidence in the honesty and integrity of the financial markets was of the utmost importance.

"ASIC will not hesitate to enforce the law to ensure investors are protected and the integrity of the market is maintained," commissioner Cathie Armour said.