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WA govt hires big guns for Bell battles

AAP logoAAP 21/09/2016 Rebecca Le May

The WA government has pulled out the big guns in its bid to claw back money it lost in the long-running Bell Group saga, enlisting international law giants as it prepares for litigation at home and abroad.

The nation's most expensive and longest-running legal case began in 1995, four years after the Alan Bond-controlled group collapsed, and centred on loans provided to various Bell companies by a consortium of 20 banks.

While the WA Supreme Court approved a settlement between the liquidators and banks in 2013, the state government last year passed legislation designed to short-circuit the jostling of various creditors, including the Australian Taxation Office.

The creditors argued, however, that the bill was unconstitutional and in May, the High Court of Australia deemed the legislation invalid in its entirety because it was inconsistent with two tax acts.

The saga now looks likely to run for at least another decade, with the state government-owned Insurance Commission of WA, which principally bankrolled the initial litigation with a $200 million contribution, returning to the courts.

ICWA has now engaged two of the world's biggest law firms, Quinn Emanuel and Jones Day, to help it fight the ongoing battles.

"As we predicted, further litigation has begun and more is threatened," ICWA chief executive Rod Whithear said.

"So we have resourced up to tackle the issues in multiple courts for as long as is necessary."

After the High Court decision, Premier Colin Barnett said he was disappointed but he didn't regret the legislation, given there would probably be no cash left at the end of the legal wrangling.

"Speculators and lawyers have lived off this, have been feeding on that carcass," Mr Barnett said at the time.

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