Billionaire threatens family ransom funds

2012-02-06 13:45

Sydney - Asia's richest woman, Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart, threatened to axe her children's ransom insurance as a bitter legal dispute raged over a family trust, reports said on Monday.

Rinehart, aged 57, is locked in a court battle with three of her four children over control of a trust worth an estimated $3.2bn.

The acrimonious dispute escalated last week when Rinehart lost a bid to have correspondence suppressed in which her children said they feared for their safety and that of their families as Rinehart's wealth surged.

Rinehart is worth an estimated $19.2bn and her fortunes are set to soar as commodity prices rally, with Forbes Asia saying she could soon challenge Wal-Mart widow Christy Walton as the world's richest woman.

Citigroup has predicted that her wealth could one day eclipse that of Carlos Slim and Bill Gates, making her the richest person in the world amid projections her wealth could top $100bn.

Wasteful expenditure

Rinehart stepped up pressure on her children on Monday, demanding they agree to keep details of the legal battle private or lose their kidnapping insurance, after e-mails detailing their safety fears were released by the court.

"We can only presume that your clients' previously stated concerns for the personal safety of their families and themselves have now completely and entirely disappeared," said a letter from her lawyers published by the Australian Financial Review.

"Under these circumstances it seems that your clients would place no value in the continuation of ransom insurance that is currently provided to them and/or their young children," the letter continued.

"Indeed you may consider such insurance to be wasteful expenditure."

The e-mails released on Friday by the Supreme Court revealed pleas from Rinehart's two eldest daughters for bodyguards and greater protection for their homes, fearing kidnapping for ransom over her sizeable fortune.