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World's 'richest-in-waiting' in family feud

04 february 2012, 17:55
Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Magazine Steve Forbes. ©REUTERS/Nicky Loh
Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Magazine Steve Forbes. ©REUTERS/Nicky Loh
Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart is on course to become the world's richest woman, according to Forbes magazine, as details emerged of a legal tussle with her children over part of the fortune, AFP reports.

Forbes Asia said that the 57-year-old was the wealthiest woman in the Asia-Pacific and the richest Australian, with a fortune estimated at $18 billion and set to rise as she expands her iron ore and coal projects.

"If commodity prices hold up, Rinehart could challenge Christie Walton ($24.5 billion) as the world's richest woman," Forbes said.

Last year, a Citigroup report said Rinehart's fortune could even grow to eclipse that of Carlos Slim and Bill Gates amid projections her wealth could top $100 billion.

The latest assessment came as Rinehart's daughter said she was was down to her last $60,000 and needed a bodyguard, in emails revealed by a court handling an ongoing legal battle within the family.

The messages released by the New South Wales Supreme Court on Thursday showed Hope Welker told her mother she needed a cook and a housekeeper as well as a security detail because of the family's highly publicised wealth.

The US-based Welker, 27, added that she also needed a safer apartment but could not afford it.

"I don't think you understand what it means now that the whole world thinks that you're going to be wealthier than Bill Gates -- it means we all need bodyguards and very safe homes," Welker wrote in July last year.

"I don't have the money to protect myself or my children and it scares me.

"I should have enough money to have a bodyguard, housekeeper and cook. Even my friends who have nothing compared to your wealth have more staff."

The personal emails came to light as three of Rinehart's four children challenge their mother in court over control of a family trust reportedly worth in excess of Aus$3.0 billion ($3.2 billion).

Rinehart, who recently bought into the media sector, has sought to have details of the case suppressed, but Justice Michael Ball allowed the emails to be released.

An email from another daughter, Bianca Rinehart, highlighted the children's concerns as they struggle to deal with speculation regarding their mother's wealth.

Bianca referred to a fake collar-bomb placed on a Sydney schoolgirl last year as she studied at her wealthy family's home.

"Chum, no doubt you heard about the unnerving situation yesterday involving a bomb and an 18-year-old girl," Bianca Rinehart wrote to her mother after the incident.

"... although we were not targeted this time, we are, by all accounts, the highest-risk family in all of Australia for future similar attacks."

Forbes lists Mexican telecoms tycoon Slim and his family as the world's richest, with a fortune estimated at a cool $74 billion.

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