Two of Australia’s richest women are set to battle it out over a multi-billion dollar legal dispute, in what will be one of the country’s most expensive courtroom showdowns.
The companies of Gina Rinehart and Angela Bennett – the daughters of mining pioneers Lang Hancock and Peter Wright, respectively – will face off in what’s expected to be a three to four month trial at Western Australia’s Supreme Court on Monday.
At the centre of the dispute is a partnership deal made back in the 1980s, between Mr Hancock and his then-business partner Mr Wright and mining and transport industries pioneer Don Rhodes.
For more than a decade, mining heiress Ms Bennett and some of her family members which control private Perth-based company Wright Prospecting – have bitterly fought in court with Ms Rinehart’s company Hancock Prospecting over one of the most profitable assets in their fathers’ partnership.
Now, the two companies will face off in the courtroom for their share of iron ore assets worth billions of dollars from six Pilbara-based mineralised zones – collectively known as Hope Downs – which Ms Rinehart’s company Hancock Prospecting co-owns with Rio Tinto.
It’s understood Ms Rinehart’s children Bianca Rinehart and John Hancock will also be seeking a share of their mother’s fortune, after launching a separate legal battle against her.
Also fighting for a 1.25 per cent share of these funds are the descendants of Mr Rhodes.
Based on the trial, the court will determine whether Ms Bennett and her rich-lister relatives including nieces Leonie Baldock and Alexandra Burt, should receive some of Hancock Prospecting’s dividends in the Hope Downs collective.
Previously, the six mineralised Hope Downs zones based in the Hamersley Range were split into two sets – the Hope Downs tenement and East Angelas tenement.
Wright Prospecting’s lawyers are expected to argue that under the partnership between Mr Hancock and Mr Wright, royalties for any iron ore mines created on Hope Downs should be shared between each family, The Australian reports.
However, Wright Prospecting alleged in court documents Hancock Prospecting failed to uphold its end of the supposed agreement, because Ms Bennett’s family never received royalties from Hope Downs tenement.
Lawyers for the Wright’s will also claim it is entitled to interest in East Angelas, which the partnership between Mr Hancock and Mr Wright gave up in the 1980s due to government enforcement.
It’s understood Hancock Prospecting reacquired the East Angelas tenement and included it in what’s now known as the Hope Downs collective, however the Wright family insists it should be entitled to its share of royalties.
Overall, it is estimated the Wright descendants are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from the Hopes Down tenements, while a share in the former East Angelas tenements could be worth billions.
It’s understood the Wright heirs made their initial claim against Hancock Prospecting a decade ago in 2013, with the latest trial one of many bitter disputes between the two mining magnate parties.
The commencement of the trial will come just days after the lawyers for Hancock Prospecting attempted to push a confidentiality order to stop more than 16,700 pages of material from being shared, The Age reports.
Had Justice Jennifer Smith approved the lawyers’ bid, parts of the anticipated four-month trial would be closed to the public.
Who is Gina Rinehart?
Billionaire philanthropist Gina Rinehart is Australia’s richest citizen after building her wealth on iron ore and is the Executive Chairman of her father’s company Hancock Prospecting.
Ms Rinehart was born on February 9, 1954 in Perth and grew up on a large sheep and cattle farm in the remote region of Pilbara, before attending boarding school at St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls.
The mining magnate transformed her father’s financially troubled company Hancock Prospecting into the “industry-leading” empire it is today.
Since commencing her leadership role at Hancock Prospecting in 1992, she’s achieved the development of the mega Roy Hill project and the development of four major iron ore mines at Hope Downs.
The 69-year-old also expanded Hancock’s agricultural business, by turning it into the second largest cattle producer in Australia.
Outside of mining and agriculture, Ms Hancock has founded several charitable services in the medical, sporting, education and community fields.
Her philanthropy has earned her a number of awards including her latest achievement as the 2023 Western Australian of the Year.
Ms Rinehart is ranked first on The Australian’sRichest 250 list and currently sits at 52nd place on the Forbes global billionaires list. It’s estimated she has a real time net worth of $37.1 billion.
Who is Angela Bennett?
Australian mining heiress Angela Bennett was formerly known as one of the country’s most reclusive billionaires after inheriting her father’s string of mining interests.
The 79-year-old formerly earned the nickname “the night parrot” of Australia’s rich list, after photojournalists failed to capture a single photo of her which clearly identified her.
Ms Bennett is the owner of family investment company AMB Holdings, which has a 50 per cent share in her late father’s company Wright Prospecting.
In 2009, the billionaire was responsible for the country’s biggest residential sale at the time after she sold her Mosman Park mansion for $57.5 million.
While she tried to tightly guard her affairs from the media, Ms Bennett became more renowned when her more than decade-long dispute with Ms Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting became public.
Ms Bennett is currently ranked in 34th position on Forbes Australia’s 50 Richest list, while securing 1905th position on the 2023 Billionaires list.
The mother of seven children has an estimated real time net worth of $1.5 billion, with that expected to surge if she wins her case against Ms Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting.