Gina Rinehart and Angela Bennet, the two richest mining heiresses in Australia have put aside past differences to form a team to sue Rio Tinto. Angela Bennet’s brother Michael Wright joins them in their quest. Collectively are after a bigger share of the iron ore mining industry profits in Western Australia.
They children of iron ore pioneers Lang Hancock and his business partner Peter Wright, who helped discover and survey one of the world's greatest iron ore regions, are suing Rio Tinto for rights to iron ore in the Pilbara region by seeking $136 million in past royalties from twenty years ago. The three heirs say in the lawsuit that Rio Tinto blocked them out of royalties in a deal made in May 1970.
This relates to royalties from land which later was developed by Rio Tinto into the Channar and Eastern Range mines. If successful the lawsuit will see both companies getting $25 million extra in royalties per year. The case, at pre-trial stage, is scheduled to begin on 7 October 2011.
Rio Tinto says that it does not owe the companies anything as they relinquished control of the land in 1974. The company gained the rights to the land in 1979 and has continued to pay royalties to the descendants of the Hancock and Wright companies on some sections of the Channar mine that have been with Rio Tinto since 1970.
The Eastern Ranges has been in production since 2004 and produces six million tonnes of iron ore annually. Channar has been in production for 19 years and has produced 190 million tonnes of iron ore in that time. Lawyers of all parties refused to comment on the matter.