02/07/2021 - 14:02

Court rejects Wright's claim

02/07/2021 - 14:02

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A claim by Julian Wright for one third of his family’s multi-billion dollar fortune has failed, in large part because of a $70 million deal struck 13 years ago.

Julian Wright was paid $6.8 million in 1987.

A claim by Julian Wright for one third of his family’s multi-billion dollar fortune has failed, in large part because of a $70 million deal struck 13 years ago.

In a ruling handed down today, Supreme Court Justice Rene Le Miere threw out Mr Wright’s claim.

Mr Wright was seeking to extract a greater share of the family fortune held by his sister Angela Bennett and the estate of his brother Michael Wright.

He had claimed he was misled by his two siblings when he agreed in 1987 to sell his interest in the estate of his father Peter Wright and his shareholding in family company Wright Prospecting for $6.8 million.

The value of that shareholding has increased enormously in subsequent years, with Wright Prospecting reaping huge income from iron ore royalties.

In the year to June 2020, it recorded a net profit of $204 million and, helped by accumulated reserves, paid an annual dividend of $230 million to its owners.

Mr Wright claimed that when he struck the 1987 deal, the assets in his father’s estate and the details of Wright Prospecting’s mining interests and royalties had not been fully and accurately disclosed to him.

He claimed his siblings breached their fiduciary duties and engaged in fraud.

He wanted to be reinstated as a one‑third shareholder of Wright Prospecting and as a beneficiary of his father’s estate.

Justice Le Miere agreed with some of his claims.

“Julian has established his cause of action against Michael and Angela that in acquiring Julian's interest in Peter's estate, Michael and Angela breached the fiduciary duty they owed as executor to Julian as a beneficiary of the estate,” he concluded.

“Julian has established his causes of action in deceit and equitable fraud in relation to Michael and Angela acquiring his interest in Peter's estate,” he added.

However, he dismissed the claim that the siblings breached their fiduciary duty as directors of Wright Prospecting or engaged in fraud in that capacity.

More significantly, Justice Le Miere said Julian Wright's claims were barred by a deed of settlement he signed in 2008.

Under that deed, Julian Wright’s children Timothy and Natalie negotiated a $70 million payout, to settle their claims against their grandfather’s estate.

“I find that before signing the deed of settlement on 22 April 2008 Julian had sufficient knowledge of the facts upon which he brings the present action, or he ought to have known or ascertained the facts,” Justice Le Miere said in his judgement.

He also ruled today that Julian Wright breached the deed of settlement by instituting this action.

A spokesperson for Angela Bennett and the estate of Michael Wright issued a statement today welcoming the court’s decision.

“The events out of which this action arose occurred some 35 years ago and were the subject of a deed of settlement entered into by Julian Wright and members of his family in 2008, when similar claims were brought and settled by the payment of significant sums to Julian Wright’s children,” the statement said.

“The Court found that Julian Wright’s claims were brought in breach of that settlement, and in any event barred by the delay in bringing this action.

“We are therefore entitled to seek damages for that breach.”

They also sought to play down some of Justice Le Miere’s findings.

“The findings made by the Court in relation to peoples’ conduct were for the most part derived from inferences drawn from documents created in the 1980s,” they said. 

“We believe that different inferences may be drawn from those documents but, most importantly, we are very satisfied with the Court’s decision to dismiss Julian’s claim.”

After the ruling, Julian Wright claimed a "very significant win”.

“The technicality which has enabled them to escape accountability in no way undermines the severity of their wrong doing," he said.

“I will take advice on whether I can appeal this decision."

Julian Wright is the proprietor of Yallingup winery Marri Wood Park.

His father, the late Peter Wright, was the business partner of the late Lang Hancock 

Their fortunes stemmed primarily from their success in discovering large iron ore deposits in the Pilbara.

They subsequently negotiated royalties agreements with Rio Tinto subsidiary Hamersley Iron.

The main ongoing beneficiaries include Angela Bennett and Michael Wright's daughters Leonie Baldock and Alexandra Burt, who all rank among Australia's wealthiest people.

Lang Hancock's daughter Gina Rinehart also continues to benefit from the royalties deals, though her much larger fortune stems mainly from mining projects her companies have developed.

 

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