The West

Hope advised to drop Gina case
Engaged: Ryan Johnston and Ginia Rinehart. Picture: Kee Hua Chee

One way or another, Ryan Johnston seemed destined to be Hope Welker's brother-in-law.

She had dated his brother, Justin, after meeting him at the $120,000-a-year Swiss boarding school to which her mother had sent her.

When that relationship ended, her younger sister, Ginia, began seeing Ryan in a whirlwind romance that would lead to an engagement and a move to Perth as the favoured offspring of the richest person in Australia, Gina Rinehart.

It is against this backdrop that Mr Johnston contacted Hope in late 2011, two months after she launched her legal action against her mining magnate mother.

In a text tapped out on his BlackBerry early one Saturday - apparently without the knowledge of his fiancee or future mother-in-law - the son of the Beach Boys' Bruce Johnston and future first man of the heir to the Hancock empire extended a hand of friendship.

"Hey there," he wrote.

"Give me a call whenever you want but I feel as your friend I need to tell you something."

Four days earlier, his angry fiancee, Ginia, had been less friendly- "just take the 300 MILLION dollars mum has repeatedly offered you and walk away", she wrote in a scathing email to her sister.

But Mr Johnston was more conciliatory.

"Let me be clear, I don't want to meddle. I told you I would keep things separate between my relationship with you and your sister but I think I need to tell you something," he said.

"You're facing a massive uphill battle and there is one thing they have a lot of and you don't, money.

"They can drag this out for years . . . and all that's going to do is drive you in debt and prolong you getting what you want, freedom and financial security."

He then urged Mrs Welker to accept her mother's offer.

"Call me whenever you want and I'm doing this under the radar so let's keep it that way."

Mr Johnston said he did not know the figure but Mrs Rinehart had offered Mrs Welker $300 million to drop the case.

Documents obtained in New York by The West Australian including strongly worded emails from Mrs Rinehart to Mrs Welker - show how the 26-year-old was put under constant pressure to accept it.

When Mr Johnston sent his text message, he had presented it as advice but Mrs Welker saw it as a threat - especially a week after her sister told her to "leave us the hell alone".

She also believed that, despite his claims to the contrary, the text was sent with the knowledge of Mrs Rinehart.

It was not the first unsolicited message she had received. A few weeks earlier, the 26-year-old was shocked to get a pair of emails from two Australian politicians she had never met.

Only a handful of people had her email address but somehow Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal MP Alby Schultz were now apparently among them.

"Dear Hope, I have never met you. I would like to, however," Senator Joyce wrote in a long email that outlined his admiration for her mother. He went on to warn her that a court battle would leave a strain on her marriage and children that "money can't fix".

In a letter that strayed uncomfortably into personal territory, the Nationals Senate leader saw fit to describe to a 26-year-old stranger in New York the extent of personal family problems, his relationship with his mother and the "times in public I hide because I want to be left alone".

"In my job we get to see good people and others," he wrote.

"Your family are good people. If they were not I would not care as much as I do about you and your mum. You are a family Australia needs.

"All good families have their problems but before it gets really out of hand, I would try to get it back in house."

A week later, a second email arrived, this time from Mr Schultz.

"You are already seen in the media as too spoilt, greedy and unappreciative and too young to have money," he wrote.

He urged her to drop the "expensive and embarrassing legal action" which was making her look like "a member of Rose Porteous' family".

Mrs Welker was outraged. She believed the only way the two MPs could have got her email address and contacted her was at her mother's direction or with her knowledge or consent.

The text message from Mr Johnston was just part of this, she thought.

The pressure was also coming at a time that a $300 million carrot was being dangled. If she dropped out of the case, she would be set up for life.

Mrs Welker needed money. She was unemployed and, after her husband was told to quit his job at a Perth mining company a month earlier, so was he. She had also been cut off financially but had not downsized her New York lifestyle.

Her children went to an exclusive private school and her apartment in New York's exclusive Upper East Side was costing $20,000 a month in rent.

She and her sister, Bianca, were struggling for cash and were selling property, clothes and jewellery to fund the court battle which was costing the trio $100,000 a month.

But Hope decided instead to stick with her half-brother and half-sister, John and Bianca in a union against their mother that would last another year.

As revealed in The West Australian yesterday, distrust among the siblings and the fear that any of them could surrender to the temptation on offer led them to sign a secret pact.

Under the terms of the deed of guarantee, if any of them withdrew, that person would have to split any payout they received from Mrs Rinehart three ways and also cover the outstanding balance of loans incurred by the trio in the costly court battle.

It is not known how much Mrs Welker has settled for but is probably less than $300 million.

The West Australian

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