Auckland High Court entertained some of the country’s wealthiest people last week, as Rich Listers paraded for various matrimonal relationship property disputes.
Among matters at stake and of keen interest to the wider well-off community are the contents and disposition of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Gordian-style family trusts.
On Monday, the estranged wife of a political high-flyer lost her appeal against a Family Court decision involving their multimillion-dollar matrimonial property carve-up.
Despite their names and divorce details being widely gossiped around Auckland, their identities have so far been supressed by Justice Graham Lang, and they couple is identified only as ‘B’ (her) and ‘G’ (him).
Queen’s counsel Grant Illingworth, a Bill of Rights specialist, represents 'B' while divorce "Queen" Deborah Hollings QC – better known for fighting the ladies' corner – represents 'G'.
Although ‘B’ lost the appeal, which involved a Bill of Rights argument, NBR ONLINE understands the decision may still have provided her with some wriggle-room when the matter goes to trial early next year.
Rich Lister’s ex battles for his fortune
Sky TV founder Craig Heatley and ex-wife Katherine were also at Auckland High Court this week, where the screws were tightened on their slow-moving asset war.
It is understood Mrs Heatley wants half of Mr Heatley’s estate in the carve-up after their marriage of 20 years ended four years ago.
But she is up against the complex family trust structure of Mr Heatley, whose worth was valued at $220 million on the 2011 NBR Rich List.
Mr Heatley was the youngest-ever NBR Rich Lister when he first made the list in 1986 aged 31.
But he was dropped from this year’s list because he claimed his personal wealth was “negligible”. Since the Rainbow Corporation days of the mid-1980s and through the birth of Sky TV and beyond, “all assets sit with the Heatley family” and not with him personally, Mr Heatley told NBR earlier this year.
He established family trusts in the 1980s and was one of five trustees overseeing the various investments under the “family umbrella”, he said.
In this case, QC Deborah Hollings acts for Mrs Heatley, while her adversary, Anne Hinton QC, speaks for Mr Heatley in a legal battle which puts the Property (Relationships) Act up against Mr Heatley’s extensive trusts.
Mrs Heatley won an earlier battle
to have the settlement proceedings transferred to Auckland High Court, where the former couple were the only onlookers to their own proceedings this week.
NBR ONLINE was allowed to be present and report after NBR’s success in the High Court and Court of Appeal for leave to name parties in a Family Court matter in 2010.
NBR won the court victory after a second failed bid by ex-Rich Lister John Robert Sanders to shut down reporting of his divorce settlement crisis.
The decision of Justice Lyn Stevens, in Sanders v Sanders in May 2010, gave NBR the right, after being granted leave by the judge, to remain, report and name Mr and Mrs Sanders.
This week, Justice Rodney Hansen granted Mrs Heatley’s application for joinder of the trustees of the various trusts associated with the parties.
This was not opposed by Mr Heatley.
Details of the trusts were not outlined in court, but Ms Hollings made reference to the written submissions before Justice Hansen which gave details of why Ms Heatley alleged the trusts were “shams”.
Ms Hollings said Mr Heatley’s trusts were his “alter egos”, to which he had disposed his assets in order to defeat her relationship property claim.
“Mr Heatley may say those assets are owned by trusts but if you look below them, they are actually owned by him.”
Ms Hollings also pushed for hasty resolve of the issues, saying matters arising under the Relationships Act should be resolved “inexpensively and speedily”.
Mrs Heatley had been “roadblocked” by the discovery process and wanted technicalities kept to a minimum, she said.
Arguing for Mr Heatley, Mrs Hinton said the court had not yet seen evidence to back up statements the Heatley trusts were shams, which was “akin to something of the nature of fraud”.
Mr Heatley applied for the return of a huge cache of private documents alleged to have been wrongly seized by Mrs Heatley soon after the couple separated in March 2008.
The court heard that Mrs Heatley or her associates had unlawfully entered businesses premises of Mr Heatley – including a locked helicopter hanger at the North Shore Aero Club – and removed a hard drive containing legally privileged documents.
This application was later withdrawn by leave.
Meanwhile, Wellington won't miss out on "relationship" court squabbles, with the fortune of a well-known capital character expected to come under court scrutiny sometime soon.