Hugh Green's family takes fight to court

03:58, Aug 12 2014

The children of late rich lister Hugh Green have gone to court in a dispute over control of his $400 million business empire.

Green, an Irishman who arrived in New Zealand penniless in 1951, amassed a fortune through a variety of business interests, including construction, farming and property investment, before he died in July 2012 aged 80.

These assets were managed through several trusts, including the Hugh Green Trust and the Hugh Green Property Trust, as well as more than 50 companies.

Shortly before his death, changes were made to the governance of the trusts and companies, with son John and daughter Frances appointed as directors and trustees of the various bodies while his other daughter, Maryanne, ended her trustee and director roles.

John and Frances were appointed executors of a new will for Green that was signed in April 2012, three months before he died.

Maryanne Green is challenging the validity of the new will and other fiduciary powers exercised by her father in late 2011 and early 2012 on the basis that he had diminished capacity because of his health problems.


She has alleged that Green was improperly influenced by John and Auckland barrister Michael Fisher, who has been appointed to various directorial and trustee roles in the Green business empire.

Maryanne's lawyer, Vanessa Bruton, said Maryanne had attempted to find a workable solution to the dispute despite her longstanding personal differences with John.

"The trustees have not acted properly by refusing her many attempts to get around the table and sort matters out without recourse to the courts," she said.

Bruton said Maryanne had left her previous job to work for the family business in 1987, while John started working part-time for the business in 1989.

She said that in 1993-94, concerns arose about John's involvement in various activities, such as alleged falsified dockets, cheques signed without company authority and large numbers of missing cattle.

"This was the subject of an investigation ... which found that if John were a non-family employee he would have been fired," Bruton told the hearing, which is being presided over by Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann.

John then resigned as a trustee of the Hugh Green Trust and moved to Australia, she said.

Maryanne continued to work for the family business, becoming a trustee of the Hugh Green Trust, a founding trustee of the Hugh Green Charitable trust and director of the Hugh Green Group companies.

John began working for the charitable trust in 2009 after returning to New Zealand, but "historical tensions" between him and Maryanne began to emerge by late 2010, Bruton said.

John was appointed as a trustee of the charitable trust in 2011, which prompted Maryanne to resign.

Bruton said that by this time Hugh Green was showing signs of significant mental decline and there should have been independent legal advice before any of the decisions in question were made.

She said medical witnesses were concerned there appeared to be no recommendation for him to be tested before he exercised his powers.

The case is set down for two weeks.