Mining dynasty’s bitter family feud
The bitter decades-long rift between a late West Australian mining titan's two eldest children and their younger sibling has been laid bare in a civil court battle.
Julian Wright, the third child of Lang Hancock's business partner Peter Wright, is suing the estate of his late brother Michael Wright and sister Angela Bennett, claiming they deliberately misled him about the value of their family company before he sold back his stake.
The Supreme Court of WA heard on Tuesday that all three were directors of Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd but Julian Wright did not believe he would get along with the pair and made it clear he wanted to be bought out.
His lawyer Pat Zappia read out the transcript of a conference call in September 1985 - about a fortnight after Peter Wright died - between Ms Bennett, Michael Wright and legal counsel Carnie Fieldhouse, who said he could use a high capital gains tax bill "as a weapon" against Julian Wright in negotiations. Mr Fieldhouse said he would not be surprised if Julian Wright wanted $8-9 million but believed that was "really low".
A transcript of a January 1986 meeting between Michael Wright and Mr Hancock showed they affirmed the ongoing partnership between the two families, with Mr Wright saying he didn't expect negotiations with his brother would turn into a "big deal".
Of Wright Prospecting's challenges, his late father's "overseas escapades" including "making stoves in Thailand" were "a bloody nuisance", however. Michael Wright then changed his mind, saying: "Julian will end up being the most difficult one of the lot" because he had made it clear he'd go to court if dissatisfied with the deal.
A short time later, Michael Wright wrote to his sister: "The bloody experts, the bastards including our own, drive me to frustration sometimes." "It is beginning to look as if his demand for $10 million may be the only possible course of action left open to us, depending on how tractable he is." Another read: "We are not going to be able to stick to Dad's wishes as he would have liked it" as "to welcome Julian back to the fold would cost an awful lot of money".
Showing some of Wright Prospecting's financial documents to the court, Mr Zappia said those that showed negative projections had flowed "freely" to his client, who ended up selling his share in the company for $6.8 million in 1987. That meant he forfeited iron ore revenue that made Michael Wright and Ms Bennett billionaires along with Mr Hancock's daughter Gina Rinehart. A spokesman for Wright Prospecting said in a statement Julian Wright was "attempting (retrospectively) to undo binding agreements he appears to now wish he had never entered into".
"He was fully informed when he negotiated and entered into those previous deals, was independently advised by experienced lawyers and he can't now overturn them by making baseless claims." The trial is the latest in a string of court battles involving Wright and Hancock family members.
In 2017, the award of $25 million to the "secret" daughter of Michael Wright was slashed to $6 million after his estate appealed.