One of New Zealand's richest men, Sir Owen Glenn, is locked in a bitter $400 million court battle over the fortune he built up over 40 years.
The Warriors co-owner is suing his former business partner and close friend of 30 years, David J Miller, for US$350m ($400m), alleging he was duped in the aftermath of the sale of his global logistics business in 2012.
Miller and another longstanding business adviser, Peter Maxwell Dickson, were charged with managing Glenn's affairs after the sale — US$350m from the proceeds went into a trust based in the Caribbean tax haven of St Kitts & Nevis. The pair were trustees.
Court documents associated with the lawsuit in the US show Sir Owen believed he would retain "de facto" control of the trust's assets, so he could spend the money as he saw fit. However, that did not happen.
So he is suing the pair for the equivalent of the US$350m in the trust, and in papers filed as part of the court action, he also alleges they took millions of dollars in trustees' fees they were not entitled to.
The National Business Review Rich List estimates Sir Owen's personal wealth at $900m.
The upcoming hearing promises to be explosive, as decades of financial wheeling and dealing and an intimate knowledge of each other's personal lives could be dredged up.
The battle has restricted funds Monaco-based Sir Owen promised for charity work in New Zealand — including his domestic abuse inquiry and community work in Otara, South Auckland.
However, the court action is not believed to be associated with his falling-out with his co-owner of the Warriors league team, Eric Watson.
The American legal stoush has been under way for almost two years — it was filed in the Superior Court of California in September 2012 — but this is the first time details have been revealed.
The court hearing was due to begin last week in California, but the lawsuit has been beset by delays, including allegations that Glenn lied about his whereabouts to avoid giving a deposition.
In court papers, Sir Owen says Miller had advised him to set up trusts in 1985. He says Miller was entrusted to do so, but that he wanted to retain "de facto ultimate decision-making authority" over his assets.
The upcoming hearing promises to be
explosive, as decades of financial wheeling
and dealing and an intimate knowledge of
each other's personal lives could be dredged up.
Sir Owen alleges that in not carrying out his wishes, Miller's "wrongful conduct" had deprived him of the unrestricted use of proceeds from the sale of his business.
"Further, [Miller's] abuse of his position ... and concealment ... of material facts enabled him to extract millions of dollars in purported trustee and protector fees for himself and Peter Dickson without [Sir Owen's] knowledge, consent or approval, all while [being] paid compensation and bonuses ... in ignorance of his wrongful conduct."
As a result of the dispute, Miller and Dickson were removed as trustees last September. The trust is now being managed by a court-appointed trustee.
Miller, a chartered accountant based in Los Angeles, has been a financial adviser to Sir Owen since 1985, and is godfather to at least one of his children.
Dickson, a Bermuda resident, is a former director of Sir Owen's New Zealand company Vanguard Logistics Services and was one of his most trusted advisers.
Miller denies the allegations, but declined to comment when contacted by the Herald on Sunday this week. Dickson did not respond to interview requests.
Lawyers acting for Miller filed court papers accusing Sir Owen of "gamesmanship", "repeated misrepresentations" and "obstructionist tactics".
Court documents claim Sir Owen said he never visited California and the deposition would need to go ahead "at great expense" in Monaco.
"However, Glenn's representations were false, and [Miller] was able to find Glenn residing in Newport Beach, California," the paper said.
He eventually made a statement to lawyers in September last year in Sydney.
Miller's lawyers told the United States court they would need to subpoena some of Sir Owen's global network of lawyers and financial advisers.
In preliminary legal skirmishes, lawyers acting for Miller probed Sir Owen's motives for moving to Monaco in 2003, and whether it was for the purpose of tax avoidance.
Sir Owen refused to answer, claiming attorney-client privilege.
But writing in his 2012 book Making a Difference, Sir Owen said: "If I'd stayed in the United States and sold the company I would have had to pay significant capital gains tax."
It is understood Sir Owen wanted to avoid paying capital gains tax in the US to maximise the amount going towards his charity, the Glenn Family Foundation.
Sir Owen could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman Ian Fraser told the Herald on Sunday that Sir Owen regarded these as "entirely private matters" and did not intend to comment.
According to the 2013 Financial Secrecy Index, St Kitts & Nevis was told it must "make major progress in offering satisfactory financial transparency". It was blacklisted during the 2000s by some European countries as being unco-operative in the fight against money-laundering.
Warriors chairman Bill Wavish was not aware of the court case and said it hadn't affected the club.
"The club board and management and players are involved in neither the ownership negotiations nor the legal actions and are therefore getting on with business as usual."
Wavish said negotiations around the sale of Sir Owen's 50 per cent stake in the club continued.
"I think Owen has appointed someone to negotiate on his behalf but the negotiations are ongoing."
In Sir Owen's book Making A Difference, Miller wrote a tribute to his former partner's skills in business negotiation.
"The opposing negotiator, decidedly naked after the first round, would experience in the second round a tearing away of his guts followed by a feeling of complete disembowelment of his stated opinion."
The lawsuit is due to be heard before a jury in October.