06/01/2020 - 11:16

End in sight for Bell battle

06/01/2020 - 11:16

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About $1.9 billion will be split between the Insurance Commission of Western Australia and other creditors of Bell Group when a settlement deal, signed in December, comes into effect later this year.

Ben Wyatt says the litigation has been a distraction. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

About $1.9 billion will be split between the Insurance Commission of Western Australia and other creditors of Bell Group when a settlement deal, signed in December, comes into effect later this year.

Although it is not yet clear exactly how much will flow to ICWA, Business News understands it is likely to be between $600 million and $700 million.

It is too early for the money to be booked in the budget, with the government saying the settlement arrangement could be effected within 12 months.

The main creditors include ICWA, the Australian Taxation Office, WA Glendinning & Associates, and the Law Debenture Trust Corporation.

It comes more than two decades after the company collapsed and a major battle commenced for creditors seeking a return.

Bell Group was controlled by Robert Holmes à Court from 1973 to 1987, with Alan Bond’s Bond Corporation taking over the company after a stock market crash.

Bell was later put into receivership, while Alan Bond was jailed for asset stripping.

Banks and other creditors then spent about 20 years in legal battles, with an agreement in 2012 for the non-bank creditors to receive $1.7 billion.

That kicked off a debate about how the money would be split, including an attempt by the state government to legislate the distribution, which was ruled unconstitutional.

All up, it has been estimated the commission spent $300 million on the litigation, with the tax office and other creditors doing deals in 1999 for the commission to fully fund the process.

Treasurer Ben Wyatt said he commended the Insurance Commission of WA for bringing an end to the long-running legal dispute.

“The Bell litigation has long been a distraction, and consumed an inordinate amount of time and resources for all parties,” he said. 

“I hope this represents the start of the end for Bell and the matter is resolved in the interest of WA taxpayers.”

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