James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch are off the hook at last on One.Tel and won’t be chased for $244 million in damages, thanks to a landmark decision in the NSW Supreme Court this morning.
Nor will the dynamic duo — who lost almost $1 billion of Packer and Murdoch money between them in Jodee Rich’s mobile phone company — have to get back onto the witness stand to say how little they recall of the whole disastrous affair. During Rich’s trial, which ended in 2009, the pair scored almost 3000 instances of “I don’t recall” between them.
And so, finally, after 10 long years, the One.Tel saga will be put to bed.
The reasons for Justice Julie Ward’s decision are contained in a 300-page judgment that your correspondent certainly hasn’t had time to read, so we can’t be sure what they are. But unlike The Sydney Morning Herald, which (according to Google about 11am) was briefly running a story about Packer’s and Murdoch’s failure to halt the damages action, we’re pretty sure we’ve got the verdict right.
“Absolutely,” said News Ltd spokesman Greg Baxter, when Crikey confirmed that the proceedings against Lachlan et al had been dismissed. “We’re very pleased with the outcome, that’s all that needs to be said.”
The proceedings against Murdoch, Packer and 16 other defendants, including four ex-One.Tel directors, an ex-PBL chief executive Peter Yates and three firms of professional advisers, were being brought by insolvency specialist Paul Weston, who was appointed as special purposes liquidator of One.Tel in 2003. The basis of his claim — which I never found convincing — was that Packer, Murdoch, Yates and others had irrevocably agreed to pump $132 million into One.Tel in May 2001 in the form of a rights issue, which the Packers and Murdochs would fund.
Weston maintained they had no right to change their minds — which they did when they saw how bad the accounts were — and that the $132 million (which was never contributed) was therefore still owed to One.Tel, plus interest.
Weston’s claim was accompanied by vague allegations of fraud and impropriety and all sorts of drum beating about the likely outcome, including predictions that Packer and Murdoch would do anything to avoid going on the stand. But Packer and Murdoch held firm and have now won through.
The basis of their victory — as we understand it from a quick gallop through the judgment — is that Weston should never have been granted leave to file his statement of claim after the statutory six-year period had expired in May 2007 (the claim was eventually filed in 2010 after several extensions were granted). It was also to do with the broad — and ever-changing — scope of Weston’s allegations and approach.
So, RIP One.Tel. And a rare victory for the rich kids in this long, sad saga.