Australia's richest woman and the heiress of Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd Gina Rinehart has lost a court battle against rival mining dynasty Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd on its claimed 25-per cent stake in the much-hyped Rhodes Ridge iron ore deposit in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Honouring a 1984 agreement between Rinehart's father Lang Hancock and his business partner Peter Wright, the Supreme Court of Western Australia has ordered Hancock to do everything practicable to enable the transfer of its 25-per cent interest to Wright.
The court verdict brings an end to a feud between two Australian mining families, which lasted over a decade. The former close friends and joint explorers of the Pilbara region had executed an agreement in 1984 aiming to prevent disputes between their successors on the assets.
The agreement gave Wright the option to take Hancock's half of the 50-per cent stake the partners had in the undeveloped iron ore deposit, forecast to be worth billions when developed.
Global mining giant Rio Tinto Plc holds the other half of the Rhodes Ridge, which is not under any dispute. Rio's asset is situated east of its West Angelas operations and south of its Hope Downs joint venture with Hancock Prospecting.
''Hancock is obliged to do all things necessary (including executing documentation and joining in the seeking of the consent of any minister or joint venture party which may be necessary) to enable Wright to have the benefit of the rights conferred on it by the 1984 agreement,'' the court order said.
Wright is entitled to the sole control over and responsibility for the administration, development and disposal of the assets, the court said.
Hancock was also ordered to pay Wright's costs of litigation.
Earlier in 2010, the court had ordered Hancock to give up its 25-per cent stake in Rhodes Ridge, increasing Wright's stake to 50 per cent.
Hancock's subsequent appeal was dismissed by the court in last October, but the company continued to contest some of the orders coming off the decision.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court judges Carmel McLure, Rene Le Miere and David Newnes finally dismissed Hancock Prospecting's appeal against the orders.
Under the order, Wright is entitled to the exclusion of Hancock to any sale proceeds or other benefits derived on the disposal of the Rhodes Ridge interest. It is not known what Wright intends to do with the asset.
"Throughout this matter and the previous matter in the Supreme Court, Wright Prospecting's focus has been to enforce and protect its ownership of 50 per cent of the Rhodes Ridge joint venture," a Wright spokesman said.
The court has not set a timeline for the transfer of the assets.
Rinehart is expected to pursue the case in the High Court of Australia, the country's superior court.
Litigation is also going on between Hancock and Wright over three Hope Downs iron ore tenements.
Some observers believe that loss of Rhodes Ridge would not significantly dent Rinehart's fortunes as she retains one of the most enviable resource portfolios in the world with huge potentials.