Vic Libs' bid to own Cormack falls short

Rick Goodman
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VICTORIAN LIBERAL CORMACK FOUNDATION COURT

Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger has had a partial win over the Cormack Foundation

The Victorian Liberals have failed in an attempt to take control of their top donor Cormack Foundation and its $70 million war chest ahead of the state election.

The Liberals had a partial win in an ownership stoush with Cormack when the Federal Court on Thursday found the Liberals were entitled to 25 per cent of the foundation's shares.

But Cormack's directors have proclaimed independence and say the legal action should have been avoided in light of the good relationship that had existed.

"The Liberal Party has completely failed to achieve its objective of confirming ownership or control of Cormack Foundation," the board said in a statement on Thursday.

"It remains entirely for the board to determine the timing and quantum of any donations and to conduct all of its other activities.

"(This) can at best be considered a Pyrrhic victory, if a victory at all (for the Liberal Party)."

Cormack Foundation was established by Liberal administrators to raise funds for the party and handle the proceeds from the sale of radio station 3XY in the late 1980s.

The initial funds of $15 million have since grown to almost $70 million and the Liberals want control over it, with a legal spat going through the courts.

Federal Court Justice Jonathan Beach on Thursday decided the Liberals were entitled to 25 per cent of the shares in the foundation.

The Liberals had originally owned two-thirds of Cormack but the number of shareholders had since grown, the judge said.

Victorian Liberals boss Mr Kroger was pleased the court found the Liberals were the majority shareholder when Cormack was established.

But he wants Cormack's directors to resign and restore the funds to the Liberal Party as it gears up to fund a state election campaign.

"We never sold Cormack. We never gifted it to anyone. We never disposed of interest," Mr Kroger said in a video statement.

"So please accept that an asset we owned in 1988 should still be an asset we owned in 2018.

Mr Kroger said over the years the foundation issued further shares to people without the Liberal Party's knowledge or consent.

The Victorian Liberals hit financial strife after jailed former state director Damien Mantach stole more than $1.5 million.

The party's falling membership numbers were aired during a prior court hearing, showing they'd dropped from between 18,000 and 22,000 in 1988 to 10,000 paid and 3000 pending memberships at latest count.