The West

Mining dynasties in new legal war
Peter Wright and Lang Hancock in the days of their prospecting partnership.

Australia's two richest mining dynasties are set to clash in court again after the Wright family lodged a legal claim over a multi- billion-dollar iron ore mine owned by Gina Rinehart and Rio Tinto.

The challenge is the latest in a decade-long feud between the descendants of Australia's most lucrative prospecting partnership in Peter Wright and Lang Hancock.

The daughter of mining heir Michael Wright, Leonie Baldock, has shown no sign of backing away from the feud with Mrs Rinehart, opening a new front only months after becoming a director of family company Wright Prospecting after her father's death in May.

The running brawl dates back to at least 2001, initially pitting Mr Wright's children Angela Bennett and Michael Wright against Mrs Rinehart.

They have been fighting over hundreds of millions of dollars in mining royalties from their fathers' discoveries and ownership of undeveloped tenements.

Wright Prospecting lodged a Supreme Court writ this week claiming half ownership of the tenements underlying the $1.6 billion Hope Downs 4 mine in the Pilbara.

Hancock Prospecting struck a joint venture deal with Rio Tinto in 2005 over six Pilbara iron ore prospects, known as the Hope Downs tenements. One mine is working and another is under construction.

The Hope Downs 1 mine is the source of much of Mrs Rinehart's wealth, giving her company about $1 billion in profits last year. It is believed Wright Prospecting does not dispute the ownership of this mine and two related tenements.

The other three tenements - the East Angelas tenements - contain the Hope Downs 4 mine.

These are the subject of the new legal challenge, with a Wright family spokesman claiming they should always have been held jointly in the "Hanwright" partnership.

"The Hanwright partnership owned these tenements jointly in the 1970s," the spokesman said.

"Wright Prospecting maintains that when the East Angelas tenements were re-awarded in 1989, they were re-awarded to the Hanwright partnership and held by Hancock Prospecting on Han-wright's behalf. Wright Prospecting is now trying to recover its interest in those tenements."

Hancock Prospecting chief financial officer Jay Newby rejected the claims.

"We don't understand the writ after the Hancock Prospecting group, without WPPL, have held the Hope Downs tenements 4, 5 and 6 for more than 20 years and WPPL have not contributed towards them financially in this period," he said.

"Further, WPPL is aware that we did a deal with Rio Tinto more than seven years ago for a half interest in these tenements."

The West Australian

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