The long-running, near $2 billion legal brawl over Alan Bond’s failed Bell Group appears all but over after a breakthrough agreement between major creditors.
The creditors, including the Australian Taxation Office, have signed a deed of settlement which clears the way for the carve up of $1.9 billion in litigation proceeds held by the Bell Group liquidator since 2014.
Other major creditors in line for a share of the spoils include Dutch distressed-debt speculator Louis Reijtenbagh’s BGNV, Hugh McLernon’s WA Glendinning & Associates and the Insurance Commission of Western Australian (ICWA).
The settlement outlined in the deed is conditional on approvals being obtained by liquidators in various Australian and overseas courts and on creditors’ and court approvals for a number of schemes of arrangement for companies in the Bell Group.
WA’s Labor Government foreshadowed a breakthrough in settlement negotiations as far back as March with speculation ICWA could get a $600-$700 million share of the spoils.
The state’s previous Liberal-Nationals government led by Colin Barnett formulated a settlement plan that involved forcing through legislation. Parliament was told the government was contemplating a carve-up that would have seen $700 million go to ICWA, $480 million to BGNV, $430 million to the Tax Office and $55 million to Bond Group UK.
The Barnett government passed the controversial legislation in 2016, only to have the laws ruled invalid by the High Court.
ICWA has played a key role in bringing the international legal row to the brink of settlement by pushing for a single case in the Supreme Court of WA.
WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt said he commended ICWA on its efforts to end the costly legal saga, which dates back to the scandals of so-called WA Inc era involving the then Labor government, Mr Bond and other discredited businessmen.
“The Bell litigation has long been a distraction, and consumed an inordinate amount of time and resources for all parties,” he said.
“I hope this represents the start of the end for Bell and the matter is resolved in the interest of WA taxpayers.”
Mr Bond, who died in 2015, was jailed for his role in stripping assets from Bell after gaining control of the one-time jewel in the business empire of Robert Holmes a Court.
BGNV, backed by Mr Reijtenbagh, was previously involved in legal skirmishing with Bell Group liquidator Tony Woodings and the ICWA over a litigation funding deal and the payment priority of junk bonds held by ICWA.
ICWA spent hundred of millions of dollars in supporting Mr Woodings in pursuit of a syndicate of banks that, acting on dubious mortgages, appointed receivers to take control of Bell from Alan Bond in 1991. The receivers then stripped Bell of about $280 million.
When the banks caved in to the legal pressure from Mr Woodings and the commission, the settlement payout was to be shared among creditors.
However, the money has remained untouched amid disputes involving the creditors that now appeared to have been resolved.