Fri, Feb 03, 2012 - Page 10 News List

Australia’s iron lady may soon be richest: ‘Forbes’

Reuters, SYDNEY

A man reads Fairfax Media Ltd’s Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday.

Photo: BLOOMBERG

Australian Gina Rinehart could soon become the world’s wealthiest woman after amassing an US$18 billion fortune from mining and media investments, Forbes magazine said in its latest list of the wealthiest people in Australia.

The 57-year old widow saw her fortune almost double after a deal signed last month that will see South Korean steel giant POSCO take a 15 percent stake in her Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara iron belt.

The deal valued the project at US$10 billion, boosting Rinehart’s fortune dramatically.

In the next few years, Rinehart also has plans to expand her iron ore operations and develop two coal collieries.

If commodity prices hold up, Rinehart could challenge Christie Walton, worth US$24.5 billion, as the world’s richest woman, Forbes said. Christie Walton is the widow of John Walton, one of the sons of Sam Walton, the founder of retail chain Wal-Mart Stores.

For now, Rinehart will have to be content with being the Asia-Pacific region’s wealthiest woman, based on Forbes’ tally.

Rinehart is the daughter of Lang Hancock, an Australian prospector credited with discovering giant deposits of iron ore in the 1950s that now make up Australia’s largest export base.

China alone relies on Australian iron ore for nearly half its imports of the key steel-making ingredient, while Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are also are big buyers for their steel mills.

Known as the “Pilbara Princess,” Rinehart is also building stakes in some of Australia’s largest media companies, drawing comparisons to another famously powerful Australian, Rupert -Murdoch, head of News Corp and now a US citizen.

Rinehart this week became the largest shareholder in Fairfax Media by more than tripling her stake in the newspaper, digital and radio broadcasting company. She already owns 10 percent of rival Ten Network Holdings.

Rinehart, who avoids media interviews, has been battling to keep details of a family legal battle out of the public eye.

Three of her children are trying to oust her as trustee of a multibillion-dollar family trust, set up by her father before he died.

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