Billionaire Rinehart Loses Final Bid for Stake in Rhodes

Billionaire Gina Rinehart, Asia’s richest woman, lost her final bid to reclaim a stake in one of Australia’s most valuable iron-ore deposits, now held by a company founded by her father’s former partner.

The High Court of Australia in Perth today rejected a request for a hearing from Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting Pty, according to an e-mailed statement from court spokesman Ben Wickham. Hancock had sought to overturn a Supreme Court of Western Australia decision awarding the 25 percent stake in the Rhodes Ridge property to Wright Prospecting Pty.

The High Court ruling ends a 12-year dispute over the property between the heirs of Lang Hancock and Peter Wright. It gives Wright Prospecting full control of a 50 percent stake in Rhodes Ridge, which holds one of the richest undeveloped iron ore properties in the world, while the rest is held by Rio Tinto Group. Rio, the world’s second-largest mining company, already operates a mine in the region and has infrastructure including a railway to ship ore to port.

“Throughout this matter, and the previous matters in the Supreme Court of Western Australia and the Court of Appeal, Wright Prospecting’s focus has been to enforce and protect its rights to 50 percent of the Rhodes Ridge Joint venture,” the company said in an e-mailed statement today. “The company is pleased that today’s ruling upholds those rights and the original judgment.”

Disputed Stake

Jay Newby, chief financial officer at Hancock Prospecting, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on today’s ruling.

Rinehart was stripped of her stake in 2010 when a judge ruled in favor of Wright, with the decision upheld in February on appeal.

Lang Hancock and Peter Wright, whose lifelong friendship and business relationship appeared to be deteriorating by the early 1980s, according to court records, initially agreed in 1983 to carve up some of their properties, with each having the option of taking full control of their portion.

Further negotiations broke down with Hancock accusing Wright of reneging on their agreement on Dec. 30, 1984, over development of the Marandoo iron-ore project in Western Australia.

Hancock and Wright’s iron-ore discoveries in the Australian state in the 1950s and 1960s made Rinehart the richest person in the country, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Wright’s daughter Angela Bennett was ranked the second-richest Australian woman by BRW magazine with a net worth of A$1.54 billion ($1.4 billion).

Rio Stake

Development of Rhodes Ridge may generate A$2.5 billion a year in operating profit for Rio Tinto Group, which owns half the project, and its joint venture partner, Peter Strachan, a resources analyst at StockAnalysis, said last year.

In his March 8, 2010, decision that stripped Rinehart of her stake in the project, Supreme Court Justice Michael Murray said discussions of the value of the property were held in closed court during the trial because they were deemed commercially sensitive.

The appeal case is Between Hancock Prospecting Pty. and Wright Prospecting Pty. 2012/WASCA216. Supreme Court of Western Australia (Perth).

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