John Hancock speaks up for sister after she falls on hard times

Gina Rinehart's estranged son John Hancock has jumped to the defence of his sister Hope, who has been forced to reach a financial settlement with their mother after falling on hard times.

Gina Rinehart's estranged son John Hancock has jumped to the defence of his sister Hope, who has been forced to reach a financial settlement with their mother after falling on hard times.

Speaking on Tuesday, John said: "I understand the pressure Hope's under and I said she should do whatever she needed to do to take care of her young family."

He declined to say anything else but given the circumstances, it was an interesting comment. Her decision to settle with their mother means splintering from the gang of three children who launched legal action in September 2011 to remove Rinehart as trustee, alleging "deceptive, manipulative and disgraceful conduct".

At the time, the youngest of the clan, Ginia, sided with her mother and has been enjoying the spoils.

Hope's application to withdraw from the legal action is expected to occur on March 12 at a directions hearing, or soon after.

Against this backdrop Forbes released its World's Billionaires list on Tuesday, ranking Rinehart No. 36. The magazine estimated Rinehart's net wealth at $US17 billion ($A16.65 billion), down from $US18 billion a year ago, due to a fall in iron ore prices.

Rinehart remains Australia's richest person. Her assets include a majority stake in Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd, 10 per cent of Ten Network, 14.9 per cent of Fairfax Media, a major stake in Roy Hill mine and other mining tenements.

Rinehart's shareholdings have created conflict on corporate governance principles and so it was again this week when emails were released in this newspaper on Monday relating to Rinehart and listed mining services company Mineral Resources, which had a Rinehart representative on its board until October 7, 2011.

The representative was Rinehart's son-in-law, Ryan Welker, who was a consultant to the family business HPPL until his wife launched legal action against her mother. Mr Welker wrote an email to Rinehart in which he said he had unanimous support from the board and advised her to "exercise your rights as a shareholder to vote against my re-election at the next AGM, if you so choose".

On October 6, Mineral Resources executive director Chris Ellison sang a different song: "We are getting serious heat from HPPL on the board position and they will soon have it all over the media which I can't afford and I hope you understand I have enjoyed having your support and as a director and friend and hope you understand - I just don't want MRL caught up in a blood-bath - Chris." Welker resigned the next day.

At the time HPPL held about 8 per cent of Mineral Resources, which wouldn't have been enough to vote Welker off the board.

The emails give an insight into what can go on behind the scenes in companies and the conundrum that can occur when a so-called "independent director" who is also a representative of a major shareholder has a falling out. The company's decision to ask for Welker's resignation was due to commercial reasons, so it ultimately acted in shareholders' best interests. In Rinehart's case she no longer believed her representative could act in her best interests given the circumstances.

From a personal perspective, Welker's resignation and the loss of income added to his family's financial and emotional stress since the legal action against Rinehart erupted 18 months ago.

As Hope struggled, cut off from an annual income stream from a trust set up by her grandfather in 1988, her sister Ginia was living the high life. The contrast was nowhere starker than a photo circulating of Ginia standing next to her partner, Ryan Johnston (son of one of the Beach Boys), and her new $1 million Rolls-Royce.

Hope's settlement with Rinehart is confidential but the words written in a press release by Ginia a year ago about her brother and sisters will no doubt be ringing in her ear. "This case is motivated entirely by greed and I have no doubt that one day soon my brother and sisters will regret putting money before family."

For Hope's husband the legal action was "morally and ethically correct - even if that means you and I are in personal conflict for the rest of our lives".

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