Squabbling within one of New Zealand's richest families plays out in High Court - Kogonuso


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May 30, 2018

Squabbling within one of New Zealand's richest families plays out in High Court

Peter Huljich is being litigated against by his grandmother Elizabeth Huljich.

A financial feud between members of one of New Zealand's richest families has been laid bare in newly released court documents.

The legal dispute, involving four members of the Huljich family, has been running since 2014, but only recently have details been made public.

The Huljich family features on the NBR Rich List with an estimated worth of $215 million. They made their fortune in property, startups and financial investments.

The family also started Best Corporation, which sold Top Hat Bacon, before the business eventually sold to Danone in 1995.

A just-released High Court judgment outlines details about how Elizabeth Huljich alleges her son Christopher Huljich and her grandson Peter Huljich failed to comply with the conditions of a $750,000 loan agreement she organised for them.

She also claims the men had an opportunity to repay the loan and invest the money on her behalf, as agreed, but failed to do so.

She claims that as an elderly woman she was vulnerable to their actions and "subjected to financial elder abuse" by them. Her claims are denied by the men. 

In an application to the court seeking to have additional claims considered as part of a wider action already before the court, Elizabeth Huljich alleged that in 2009 she mortgaged a number of townhouses she owned in St Heliers, Auckland after Christopher Huljich told her Peter Huljich needed financial assistance.

Elizabeth Huljich claimed it was agreed the loan be repaid on demand. Christopher Huljich and Peter Huljich dispute that.

A total of $486,000 had been repaid on the loan, leaving $264,000 left unpaid, according to Elizabeth Huljich's claim.

Elizabeth Huljich claimed that the defendants denied that they were liable to make any further payments, or to pay interest on the balance of $264,000.

When Elizabeth Huljich began the proceeding in October 2014, Chris Huljich was the only defendant. Peter and Michael Huljich have subsequently been added as defendants "and the allegations have been broadened considerably to bring in new allegations, unrelated to the original claim", the court said in its ruling on the application. 

Elizabeth Huljich claimed that in the early 1990s she and her late husband, Peter Huljich, made a series of property transactions which benefited their sons. In return all financial needs, requests and assistance required by Elizabeth and Peter Huljich, during their lifetime, would be sustained, she alleged.

Such financial demands included overseas holidays with all expenses paid, new vehicles (about every five years), funds for financial investments and renovation work on their home, her claim said. 

Up until 2007 the agreement was adhered to, her claim said.

Since then Chris and Michael Huljich had breached the agreements "and failed to financially assist" their mother, Elizabeth Huljich claimed.

The actions had left their mother in "a financially precarious" position in the later years of her life, she alleged.

Daniel McLellan QC, acting for Christopher, Peter and Michael Huljich, told the court the allegations were "inherently implausible" and it was "extremely unlikely" the brothers would have agreed to provide her with unlimited financial support for the duration of her lifetime.

Elizabeth Huljich also sent Chris Huljich a letter in 2012 that she no longer needed his assistance, McLellan said.

Elizabeth Huljich claims Christopher Huljich's actions left her in a state of "mental and emotional distress" and she was seeking damages totalling $475,000 and exemplary damages of $50,000, plus interest.

She also claims her grandson Peter Huljich fraudulently misrepresented details to her in relation to the $750,000 and was seeking the same amount of damages from him for "mental and emotional distress".

In 2011 Peter Huljich and his company Huljich Wealth Management was convicted and ordered to pay $447,000 for undermining public confidence in the KiwiSaver investment market and misleading investors by using his own money to artificially inflate the performance of the company's KiwiSaver fund.

In defending Elizabeth Huljich's allegations the three men are seeking for a series of paragraphs in the applications to be struck out because they contain no arguable case.

In his decision, Associate Judge Warwick Smith granted the application by the three men to strike out some paragraphs of Elizabeth Huljich's claim and she was also ordered to provide further details on certain other claims before the case heads to trial on July 9.​

* An earlier version of this story may have given the incorrect impression that Elizabeth Huljich's claims had been upheld by the judgment. Her claims are yet to be tested at trial. Any misunderstanding is regretted. 

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