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Mining billionaire Angela Bennett fights to have alleged fraud case dismissed in court


Feb. 13, 2020

Lawyers for billionaire Angela Bennett have told WA's Supreme Court the evidence to be called by her brother, alleging his two siblings cheated him out of his share of the family's billion-dollar iron company, "falls well short of any proof of fraud".
Key points:
Angela Bennett and her late brother amassed great wealth from their father's mining company
Julian Wright claims he was deceived by the pair when he sold his share in 1987
Ms Bennett claims there is no proof of fraud and will fight to have the case dismissed
Ms Bennett's younger brother Julian Wright is suing her and his older brother, the late Michael Wright, claiming he was deliberately misled by the pair about the value of the company, WPPL, before he sold his one-third stake for $6.8 million in 1987.
The company was founded by Peter Wright, who with his partner, Lang Hancock, pioneered the discovery of iron ore in WA's Pilbara region in the 1950s.
Peter Wright died in 1985, and the family company is now worth billions.
Ms Bennett, who is notoriously private, has an estimated worth of about $2 billion, while Michael Wright was worth an estimated $1.2 billion when he died in 2012.
Julian Wright alleges he was not told about the potential lucrative value of WPPL, including its entitlement to a stream of mining royalties, and was instead only provided with negative information about the mining operations.
Ms Bennett's senior counsel, Kristina Stern, has told the court it was the defendants' position, that "none of the matters" being relied upon by Mr Wright at the trial, "were material in any way" to his decision to sell.
"Julian Wright simply can't show he would have acted any way differently had the additional material been made more apparent to him, as he alleges," she said.
Ms Stern said documents show "very clearly" there were "a number of matters on the mind" of Julian at the time, including financial hardship and his "perception of the nature of his relationship with his brother and sister".
"His own perception was they would not agree to continue with the three of them as directors of WPPL," she told the court.
"The evidence shows that perception was well-founded."
Ms Stern also said despite what Julian Wright was alleging, there was evidence he was told by experts that WPPL was valued between $75 million and $120 million.
She submitted there was "no evidence of misrepresentation or concealment" by Ms Bennett, Michael Wright, or others who, it is being alleged, acted as their agents.
"The evidence falls well short of proof of fraud, bearing in mind the seriousness of that allegation."
The other grounds on which the legal action is being defended include a 2008 deed of settlement involving Julian Wright's two children, who received tens of millions of dollars from their aunt and uncle.
Ms Stern told the court the deed of settlement barred Mr Wright from taking any further legal action and therefore entirely precluded" and was "fatal to" his current claim.
Ms Stern said the legal action should be dismissed with costs awarded to the defendants.
Her opening statement came after a three-and-a-half-day opening by Julian Wright's lawyers, in which it was alleged he was "trapped like a rat in a bottle" by his siblings before he made the decision to sell.
The trial is expected to run for another three weeks and Ms Bennett may be called to give evidence.
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