The youngest of Gina Rinehart's three estranged children is broke and pulling out of the multi-billion dollar court battle that she has spearheaded against her mother.
New York-based Hope Welker is understood to have asked siblings Bianca Rinehart and John Hancock to withdraw, citing personal reasons.
The shock move in one of the country's most bitter family disputes means Rinehart now has her two youngest children on her side and leaves the remaining two with mounting legal bills of about $100,000 a month.
It is unclear at this stage what impact the decision will have on the case but Welker's two siblings are understood to have resolved to continue the battle against their mother on their own.
The move is significant because it was Welker who originally launched the case against in September 2011, accusing the mining magnate of "deceptive, manipulative and disgraceful conduct" in her management of the multi-billion dollar family trust set up for them by their late grandfather, Lang Hancock. She then brought her brother and sister on board.
To withdraw now, Welker will need the agreement of both John and Bianca over payment of her share of outstanding legal bills, collectively believed to be more than $1,000,000.
Unless they agree, she will have to seek the leave of the court, which could be called on to make a decision on her obligations.
Welker and her husband, Ryan, have been living in New York's upper east side for the past 18 months after Mr Welker resigned as a director of Perth-based Mineral Resources, Ltd, in which Hancock Prospecting had a small stake, soon after the court case began.
But it is believed the pair have suffered financial and personal difficulties.
Mr Welker has been seeking work in New York for months while his wife, like her two siblings, has not received any distributions from the family company, putting added financial pressure on the three in the protracted court case.
Last year, John Hancock told The West Australian that he and Bianca had been helping pay Hope's bills and children's school fees.
Most of the legal fees incurred so far by the three have been paid through a combination of savings and assets and loans from Australian and Chinese backers.
The children, who have been cut off financially since they launched their action, have been fighting a separate battle in arbitration proceedings in WA to access quarterly royalty payments from the Hope Downs iron ore mine, to help cover the escalating costs in the protracted case.
Under the terms of a 2006 agreement, they say are meant to have received royalties from January last year but claim their mother has refused to pay them.
With her withdrawal, Welker will join her younger sister, Ginia, who has sided with their mother throughout the case. The two are Rinehart's children from her second marriage to Frank Rinehart while John and Bianca, who are several years older, are from Mrs Rinehart's first marriage to Greg Hayward.The court case is set for a directions hearing on March 12. A hearing date is expected to be set for around September - exactly two years since the case began.
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