SYDNEY, June 20 (Reuters) - A senior executive at Wilmar International Ltd, the world's biggest producer of palm oil, emerged on Thursday as a significant shareholder in Australia's Whitehaven Coal Ltd.
A filing to the Australian Stock Exchange showed Martua Sitorus and companies associated with the Indonesian billionaire hold a 5.826 percent stake in Whitehaven after purchasing shares from former major shareholder Nathan Tinkler. U.S. hedge fund Farallon Capital Management picked up 9.9 percent of Whitehaven, increasing its holding to 16.6 percent.
The removal of Tinkler from the Whitehaven share register has raised speculation that the company could become a takeover target, although Farallon and other lenders would likely want a recovery in the share price before selling out.
The filing said that Sitorus, Golden Parklane Ltd, Bolney Enterprises Ltd and Burlingham International Ltd, all located at the same address in Singapore, bought a total of 9.53 million shares from Tinkler's Aston Resources Investments Pty Ltd and Boardwalk Resources Investments Pty Ltd. The group paid A$28.21 million ($26.90 million) for the stock.
Tinkler, a former mining pit electrician who turned a $1 million bet on a coal tenement into a $1 billion fortune, was forced to sell his almost 20 percent stake in Whitehaven to lenders to pay off most of a $634 million debt.
Sitorus, 53, currently Wilmar's chief operating officer, is due to step down from that position to become executive deputy chairman of the company on July 1.
When Wilmar announced the switch last month, it said Sitorus, a co-founder of the company, was stepping down to focus more time on his family business.
($1 = 1.0486 Australian dollars)
Reporting By Jane Wardell