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Noble investors approve farm unit sale to Cofco

Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Investors of embattled commodities trader Noble Group on Thursday approved the sale of the company's stake in Noble Agri to Cofco for at least $750 million.

Noble chief executive Yusuf Alireza told a shareholder meeting in Singapore that the unit had been making losses and that the sale would improve the liquidity and balance sheet of the company.

Chinese food giant Cofco owns the remaining 51 percent of Noble Agri, which it bought for $1.5 billion in 2014. Cash proceeds from the sale of Noble Agri will be used to repay debt, Noble said in December.

Moody's Investors Service and Standard and Poor's recently cut the company's credit rating to junk due to liquidity concerns amid a wider commodities rout. Fitch still has an investment grade rating on the firm.

Noble shares have fallen well over 70 percent since February 2015, when a firm called Iceberg Research published a report alleging that the Singapore-listed trader's accounting treatment was "unusual," resulted in "fabricated" profit and "intentionally misleads credit agencies and investors."

Noble has consistently and vehemently denied the allegations and has taken multiple steps to improve its disclosures to investors, including commissioning an independent review of its accounting from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which found Noble's accounting was in line with international standards.

At Thursday's shareholder meeting, Noble founder and chairman Richard Elman called Iceberg Research a "tweeter" driven by a desire to manipulate the market. Legal proceedings against Iceberg are ongoing in Hong Kong, he added.

Meanwhile, Iceberg Research, which Noble claims is run by a disgruntled former Noble employee called Arnaud Vagner, has refused to back down; on Wednesday it said it would soon publish a fourth report on Noble and reiterated a number of its criticisms of Noble's business that it said had already been validated.

Iceberg has previously refused to confirm or deny whether Vagner is a principal.

Noble shares are down over 30 percent this year to date.

Earlier Thursday, Noble announced in a statement to the Singapore Exchange that it had bought back more of its own bonds due 2018 and 2020, reducing its debt by $32.6 million.

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