Billionaire Gina Rinehart tasked Price Waterhouse with a confidential project to undo her mining pioneer father’s legacy and boost her shareholding in the family company at her children’s expense, a court has been told.
Hancock Prospecting’s executive chair described Lang Hancock’s 1988 plan to transfer a 33 per cent share of that company into a trust for his four grandchildren as “undesirable” in a 1994 letter to the consultancy, said Christopher Withers SC, representing the two eldest children.
“This special project is really to cause Hancock Prospecting to buy back those shares and cancel them, which will have the effect of increasing Gina’s shareholding 51 per cent to 76 per cent,” he told the Supreme Court trial over mining assets and royalties in Western Australia’s northwest.
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“Gina is embarking on this special project despite the fact she owed fiduciary duties to her children to preserve the assets of (the trust).”
Withers said Rinehart’s project faced a problem in that Price Waterhouse was putting too high a value on the shares she wanted moved.
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“So what Gina decides to do to address it is to say ‘we need to find a way to reduce the value of the shares’,” he said, referring to Rinehart’s instructions to the firm as outlined in the letter.
“What this special project is, is a directive … to find a way to deflate the value of the (trust) shareholding in (Hancock Prospecting).”
Withers said Price Waterhouse was instructed to remove Hancock Prospecting’s shares from the trust designed to benefit her children “by any means possible”.
“Despite the fact the acquisition of that shareholding was exactly what she agreed to with her father in the 1988 agreement,” he said.
Withers said Rinehart had benefited from that deal “because in return for that agreement, her father also gifted her 17 per cent of (Hancock Prospecting) that previously belonged to his wife”.
Gina Rinehart is accused of a secret plan to boost her wealth at her children’s expense. Credit: AAP
He said the letter was sent to Price Waterhouse while she was battling her father’s former wife, Rose Porteous, in court following his death in 1992.
“It must be remembered at the same time as she’s giving this special project directive, she was in the Porteous litigation asserting that she was a trustee of the trust.”
Withers, representing John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart, said Gina Rinehart also asked Price Waterhouse personnel to sign confidentiality agreements.
“It’s not surprising that Gina did not want this document to see the light of day for obvious reasons,” he said.
Withers also took Justice Jennifer Smith through a letter Rinehart penned in 1995, in which she accuses her senior executives of breaching a contract related to the trust, saying she and her children had “lost the power to control (their) affairs”.
Bianca Rinehart was in court earlier this week. Credit: AAP
He said it was “bizarre” and a “ruse” because it failed to mention Rinehart was a trustee of the same trust the men were directors of.
The claims were made in a high-stakes legal stoush in Perth in which Mrs Rinehart’s company and her children are defending the claims of Wright Prospecting and DFD Rhodes.
Wright Prospecting is suing for a share of some Hope Downs tenements and royalties amid a claim that it never relinquished the assets and Hancock Prospecting has breached a series of partnership agreements.
The family company of the late prospector Don Rhodes, DFD Rhodes, says it is entitled to 1.25 per cent royalty share of the Hope Downs production following the 1960s deal.
Rinehart is battling her children in the Federal Court over fraud allegations related to the devaluing of the trust, which they say their grandfather left them.
Withers said Rinehart’s actions amounted to breaches of her fiduciary duty and the Hope Downs assets don’t belong to Hancock Prospecting and, as a result, Wright Prospecting has no claim to them or a percentage of the profits.
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