Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, tried to “throw” her eldest son “under the bus” when he questioned his inheritance, the WA Supreme Court has heard.
The tension between Ms Rinehart and her firstborn John Hancock was rising in the early 2000s, as he began to press his mother on why his grandfather Lang Hancock’s dying wishes were not fulfilled.
The relationship dynamics were laid bare by Mr Hancock’s lawyer, John Whithers SC, who said his client was “extremely financial constrained” at the time, even asking Mrs Rinehart for money.
“Such was the imbalance of power between him and (Hancock Prospecting) that he had even requested Gina and (Hancock Prospecting) to meet some of his expenses,” Mr Whithers said.
“He didn’t have enough money to buy new brake pads for his car … or to get a service.”
Correspondence revealed in court showed Mr Hancock’s lawyer writing to Hancock’s general counsel to ask Mrs Rinehart to place money in John’s account as “the wolf was knocking”.
As the tensions grew between the pair, Mr Whithers said Mrs Rinehart had her legal team draft a media release from John’s own lawyers at the time, which said there had been a “conflict” relating to the “priority of the family’s funds”.
“Gina has been offering him a number of different options. He’s not accepting it,” the draft statement read.
“(It is) an endeavour to claim he should have a greater equity interest in the company.”
It was not clarified whether the letter was ever sent to his lawyers.
“They are basically urging John’s solicitor to throw him under the bus and publish this statement,” Mr Whithers told the court.
“We say this speaks to the power that we say Gina wielded, that a solicitor would do something like this and issue a statement of this kind without their client’s consent.”
Mr Whithers sifted through rafts of letters and documents as he continued day four of his opening submissions.
Letters he said included many “not so subtle threats” against the younger Hancock for continuing to ask questions about the makeup of family trusts and his claim to them, as well as assertions from Hancock Prospecting that any suggestion that things weren’t above board was wholly wrong.
Today’s proceedings mark what is expected to be the final day of submissions for Mrs Rinehart’s children, with her eldest daughter Bianca Rinehart present in court all week as her case against her mother was laid bare.
Party to the claims against Hancock Prospecting in this case is the family of Lang Hancock’s former business partner Peter Wright of Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd, and the family-owned DFD Rhodes company which was founded by often-forgotten businessman Don Rhodes.
More than 15,000 documents have reportedly been tendered to the court as part of the mammoth civil case.
The case continues on September 1.