Millions at stake in luxury lodge row

Alex van Heeren's assets include the luxury Huka Lodge. Photo / Jim Eagles
Alex van Heeren's assets include the luxury Huka Lodge. Photo / Jim Eagles
Wealthy businessman Alex van Heeren, owner of the luxury Huka Lodge, is due to file a defence in a month's time to a 17-year-old court claim brought by his former business partner who is seeking half of the assets they built up together.

Van Heeren and his former business partner Michael Kidd worked together in the international steel trade for about 15 years and acquired an empire of assets before parting ways in 1991.

That year, Kidd signed a document in South Africa which was said to settle all disputes between the parties and indemnify van Heeren against all claims brought by Kidd relating to any company or business the parties were involved with anywhere in the world.

In 1996, Kidd brought a claim in the High Court in New Zealand against van Heeren seeking half of the assets they built up during their partnership.

When the pair split, Kidd claims he received only US$3 million of assets valued conservatively at US$38.5 million that included over 30kg of gold, Huka Lodge and Fiji's Dolphin Island resort.

Van Heeren relied upon the indemnity document as his defence to this claim and in 1997 the High Court put a stay on the litigation until the South African courts had declared the validity and scope of the document.

In a judgement last May, South Africa's Judge Kathy Satchwell declared the indemnity document null and void.

In her decision, the judge said Kidd was induced to sign the indemnity by van Heeren's "deliberate misrepresentations".

"These misrepresentations were false ... these misrepresentations were intended to induce Kidd to sign the indemnity and did so induce Kidd to sign. These misrepresentations would have induced any reasonable person to have entered into the indemnity," the judge said.

Van Heeren made a bid to take the case to South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal but his application for leave to appeal was dismissed last October.

The Supreme Court did not give the full reasons for its decision but indicated it was of the view that the appeal had no reasonable prospect of success.

Lawyers for both van Heeren and Kidd appeared briefly this week before Justice Murray Gilbert in the High Court at Auckland, which heard the stay on the New Zealand litigation was no longer in effect and had lifted on its own terms. Kidd's lawyer Brent O'Callahan said the plaintiff would proceed using the original pleadings.

The Queen's Counsel for Van Heeren, Christopher Hodson, indicated he would file a statement of defence by May 14.

Hodson told the Herald earlier this year that Huka Lodge was not at stake in the litigation.

However, Judge Satchwell's decision said she is satisfied that Kidd's and Van Heeren's partnership made acquisitions that included Huka Lodge. According to documents from property website QV, Kidd filed a caveat over the Huka Lodge's 6.7ha property in February.

- Hamish Fletcher, NZ Herald 

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