Mining Queens Gina Rinehart, Angela Bennett in Legal Battle Over Hope Downs Iron Ore Mine

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By Vittorio Hernandez | September 27, 2012 10:16 AM EST

In the generally male-dominated world of mining, two resources queens are engaged in a court battle over ownership of the Hope Downs iron ore mine in Pilbara.

Slugging it out in the courtroom arena are Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest woman, and rival Angela Bennett. Ms Bennett initiated the legal battle by filing on Wednesday with the West Australian Supreme Court documents claiming ownership of Ms Rinehart's stake in Hope Downs.

Ms Bennett and her deceased brother, Michael Wright, are the heirs of Peter Wright who was the partner of Ms Rinehart's father, Lang Hancock, in the Hope Downs venture.

Ms Bennett, who heads Wright Prospecting, charged Hancock Prospecting, owned by Ms Rinehart, of making commercial decisions on the iron ore mine properties without the involvement of Wright Prospecting. She said Wright Prospecting is trying to recover interests by seeking a 50 per cent stake in Hope Downs 4, 5 and 6 tenements.

Some of the Hope Downs assets are jointly owned by Hancock Prospecting and Rio Tinto under a 2005 agreement. Hope Downs 4 has an estimated yearly capacity of 15 million metric tonnes of iron ore once it becomes operational in 2013. The venture costs $1.6 billion.

Hope Downs 4 is one of the six iron ore deposits owned by Hancock. Two of the deposits are part of a 50-50 joint venture between Hancock and Rio.

Wright charged Hancock with breach of trust by selling partly the Hope Downs property without its consent. It sought an accounting of all profits earned by Hancock from the three tenements and compensation for the breaches of fiduciary.

Ms Bennett also asked the court to declare that Ms Rinehart's company held 50 per cent of the property in trust for Wright, including proceeds from the sale and royalties.

It is not a first court battle between the two female mining billionaires. They have another ongoing 11-year legal tussle over ownership of the Rhodes Ridge property. A judge awarded the 25 per cent stake of Hancock to Wright, but Ms Rinehart appealed the decision which would have wiped about $530 million from her personal wealth.

The battle over properties between the two women is not surprising since their fathers, who enjoyed a lifelong friendship and business relationship, apparently had some falling out of sorts in the early 1980s. Court documents said the two men initially agreed to carve up some of their properties and each has the option of gaining full control of their portion, but their agreement excluded the Hope Downs assets from the division of properties.

Besides her court battle with Ms Bennett, Ms Rinehart has ongoing legal tussles with three of her estranged adult children. With the trips to the court that the world's richest woman has to make attending to these lawsuits, another unofficial title could perhaps be bestowed on Ms Rinehart as the courtroom queen. Ms Rinehart was previously tagged Queen of Mean recently for her suggestion that low-wage earners in Australia should smoke and drink less but work harder to become rich.

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