Bloomberg News

Rinehart Family Dispute Remains Secret as Judge Seals Suit

September 13, 2011

(Updates with judge’s comment in second paragraph.)

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, is able to keep a family dispute private as a judge barred the publication of the details of a lawsuit filed against Rinehart by her daughter Hope Rinehart Welker.

“This is and always was a family dispute,” New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Paul Brereton wrote, giving his reasons for imposing a publication ban. “The outcome is of practical interest only to the parties and their privies. No questions of public significance or importance appear to arise.”

The dispute involves an agreement the family reached in 2007 over the governance of a family trust, which has invested in Rinehart’s companies, Brereton said in the written reasons, which were released in Sydney today. Rinehart’s lawyer, Alan Sullivan, had earlier sought a ban on the publication of the written reasons.

Rinehart became the first woman to top Forbes Asia’s list of Australia’s richest people this year as surging iron ore prices and exports more than quadrupled her fortune to $9 billion from a year earlier.

She inherited iron ore mining assets from her father Lang Hancock and is developing two coal projects worth an estimated $15 billion to meet rising demand from China and India, according to Forbes.

Not the First Time

“This is not the first occasion of discord in the family, which has immense wealth, no small part of which resides in the trust,” Brereton wrote.

John Hancock, Rinehart’s son, had changed his surname eight years ago amid a family split over his late grandfather’s empire, the Australian newspaper reported.

Rinehart controls Hancock Prospecting Ltd. and last year bought a 10 percent stake in Ten Network Holdings Ltd., Australia’s third-biggest television broadcaster. She also gained a seat on the board of Ten.

Under the 2007 agreement, all the family members conceded that any future disputes would be resolved in private mediation and private arbitration, if necessary, Brereton observed.

The purpose of the agreement was to avoid the undermining of confidence of those dealing with the trust in sensitive commercial arrangements, Brereton wrote.

The lawsuit may have been filed in error, because Rinehart took a step “which accorded what the plaintiffs sought to achieve,” the judge wrote.

Brereton barred the publication of what Rinehart Welker seeks from her mother, arguments made in court over the publication ban and any evidence or court documents relating to the lawsuit.

The judge agreed to hear on Sept. 21, Rinehart’s request to suspend the lawsuit and to transfer the proceedings from Sydney to Western Australia.

The case is Hope Rinehart Welker v Gina Rinehart. 2011/285907. New South Wales Supreme Court (Sydney).

--Editors: Ryan Woo, Rebecca Keenan

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at jschneider5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Victoria Batchelor at vbatchelor@bloomberg.net.


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