15/09/2017 - 13:44

ICWA steps up Bell Group spending

15/09/2017 - 13:44

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The Insurance Commission of Western Australia increased spending on the Bell Group litigation to $9.6 million last financial year, while also revealing in its annual report it has applied to the Supreme Court for a single trial to cover all related matters.

The Insurance Commission filed an application with the Supreme Court to bring all the proceedings together. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The Insurance Commission of Western Australia increased spending on the Bell Group litigation to $9.6 million last financial year, while also revealing in its annual report it has applied to the Supreme Court for a single trial to cover all related matters.

Last year’s spending has increased the commission’s total outlays on the Bell litigation to about $250 million since the case commenced in 1995.

The commission has spent on average about $2.6 million a year from 1999 to 2017 on legal and administrative costs related to the Bell dispute, adding up to about $49 million.

Chief executive Rod Whithear said these costs had increased significantly during the past year due to the large number of separate legal proceedings.

In addition, the commission advanced $198.5 million to the Bell liquidator to pay for litigation against Bell Group’s banking syndicate.

At the current rate of progress, the commission has estimated the matter would take another 15 years of litigation to resolve.

In response to the expanding number and scope of proceedings, the commission is pushing for all related proceedings to be heard in one court trial.

“Most creditors support a single trial rather than continuing a number of separate and parallel legal proceedings,” Mr Whithear said.

“The exception to this is BGNV.”

Bell Group NV is a company controlled by Perth liquidator Garry Trevor, with backing from interests associated with Dutch billionaire Louis Reijitenbagh.

Other Bell Group creditors include the Australian Taxation Office and a group associated with Perth-based Hugh McLernon.

A strategic conference before the Supreme Court is scheduled for late October 2017 to hear the application for a single trial.

“A single trial of the major issues is the most efficient and expedient process to bring an end to the Bell Group litigation,” Mr Whithear said.

He said the complex structure of the Bell case provided scope for almost endless disputes in court. 

The winners from the long-running litigation include US-based law firms Jones Day and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which were appointed last year to represent the commission in the matter.

Quinn Emanual opened a Perth office in April after recruiting state solicitor Paul Evans, while Jones Day has four Perth partners after opening its local office in 2014.

The current litigation is between the commission and other Bell Group creditors, which are arguing over the carve-up of the $1.8 billion they won in their earlier fight with the banking syndicate.

The US law firms were appointed last September, four months after the High Court threw out a state government scheme to settle the long-running dispute.

The dispute goes back to 1991 when a syndicate of banks put Alan Bond’s Bell Group into receivership.

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