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Noble founder Richard Elman sued by former CEO for $57m

Richard Elman (pictured), the founder of embattled Hong Kong commodities conglomerate Noble Group, is being sued by another of his former CEOs for $57m.

Yusuf Alireza, who ran Noble from 2012 to 2016, is claiming Elman owes him $57m of unpaid shares. The suit is against Elman, who stepped down as chairman of Noble recently, and a New Zealand firm controlled by Elman’s family.

Alireza said in the suit, filed in Hong Kong, that he had raised concerns about Noble’s “future viability” with Elman shortly before he quit in May last year.

Alireza claims Elman told him his contract was being terminated on the “apparent basis that there were irreconcilable differences between [the two men] as to how the company should be run in future”.

Elman, who founded Noble in 1986 and saw it become one of the world’s largest companies by revenue, has since presided over a dramatic fall from grace for the Singapore-listed company.

Noble has urgent debt restructuring debts that it is discussing with its lenders at the moment. Earlier hopes that Sinochem might come in as a strategic investor have been thwarted.

Alireza is not the first CEO to leave the group on bad terms. Ricardo Leiman, Alireza’s predecessor, sued Noble in a dispute over his bonus and share options.

Shares in Singapore-listed Noble have collapsed by 98% from their 2011 peak to S$0.32.

On May 22, S&P Global Ratings cut Noble’s rating three rungs, from B+ to CCC+. “The company’s capital structure is not sustainable,” S&P said in a statement, citing weak cash flow and low profitability. It holds a negative outlook on Noble, given the risk of the company failing to repay its debts. Fitch Ratings also downgraded the commodities trader by three notches on May 25.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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