New documents suggest mining magnate Gina Rinehart changed the ownership structure of her main company, Hancock Prospecting, in the middle of a controversial 10-day period that was crucial to her court battle with her estranged children.
Documents submitted to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission suggest that 51,584 Hancock shares were removed from a Rinehart family trust called "HMHT Investments" on April 26, 2012.
The shares were transferred into another company name, "GH Rinehart as Trustee for The Hope Margaret Hancock Trust", on the same day, and the change left HMHT Investments holding zero shares in Hancock Prospecting.
The trusts were central to a court battle in which several of Mrs Rinehart's children sought, and eventually won, access to their share of lucrative family trusts.
The date of change was less than a week after a NSW court ruled that Mrs Rinehart's court battle with her children must be heard publicly, and just four days before the trust at the centre of the dispute vested on April 30, 2012.
But in a twist, Hancock Prospecting took more than a year to officially notify ASIC of the changes, with the documents only being received by ASIC last week, on May 29. Hancock Prospecting did not respond when asked to comment on the changes.
Despite winning access to their share of the trusts, two of Mrs Rinehart's children are pushing ahead with legal action to have her removed as head of the trust and are seeking to have years of financial documents published. They claim Mrs Rinehart engaged in serious misconduct by changing the vesting date of the trust, and the case is expected to go to trial in October.
Hancock Prospecting reported a bottom-line profit of $3.26 billion for the year to June 30, 2012, but that figure was inflated by $1.16 billion on the back of a deferred tax asset related to the new mining tax.
Hancock Prospecting's main source of income is an iron ore joint venture with Rio Tinto in Western Australia, but the company also has a range of other investments and is a significant shareholder in Fairfax Media, owner of this publication.