A member of one of Australias richest families who claims she was left out of her fathers will because she was conceived via artificial insemination is being blocked from accessing documents which would unveil his wealth, court documents reveal. Following the death of her father Robert Smorgon in September 2019, Samantha Jane Smorgon has applied to the Supreme Court of Victoria for access to the past seven financial years’ worth of documents relating to 18 trusts which she believes “hold substantial assets”.
This includes tax returns, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, bank statements, meeting minutes about the trust funds and documents relating to their administration and management.
The trusts are controlled by her relatives including her brother Stephen Smorgon.
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The Melbourne family’s empire was established in the 1930s and has included meat, paper, chemicals, plastics, electronics and steel, the latter involving a $2.5 billion takeover of Smorgon Steel by OneSteel in 2007.
The Smorgon clan repeatedly topped the BRW Rich Families list throughout the 2000s, with an estimated combined wealth of more than $2 billion.
Ms Smorgon claims she is “one of the discretionary beneficiaries” in all of the trusts including as a general beneficiary, primary beneficiary or a relative of one, being her father.
She was born to his first wife, Michele.
“I have been told that I was conceived by artificial insemination,” her affidavit, obtained by news.com.au, states.
“However, my father is named as my father on my birth certificate, and I am also named as his child on his death certificate.
“Throughout my childhood, I was brought up believing that I was a child of my father. I believed my father was my biological father until my early teenage years. Indeed, my father treated me as if he was my natural father and I his child.
“Even after I was told the matters set out in the preceding paragraph (on her conception), my father continued to behave as if he was my natural father and treat me as if I was his child. I have been told that my brother Stephen Smorgon was conceived in the same manner as me.”
Artificial insemination is a fertility procedure involving sperm being inserted into the uterus.
“By his Will, my father defined me as a ‘stepchild’ and further stated that he considered that he had no biological children,” Samantha Smorgon’s affidavit states.
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She claims her father – who “controlled substantial wealth and whose family controlled substantial wealth” – excluded her from benefiting from his estate, unless his widow Vicki Smorgon died before him.
Vicki Smorgon is the executor of Robert Smorgon’s estate and is a joint proprietor in three of his four properties, according to his daughter’s affidavit.
The document states the inventory supporting his will showed he owned assets amounting to $851,000 with liabilities of $141,000 at the time of his death.
Ms Smorgon claims to have never received information about the assets held in any of the trusts and, to her knowledge, has never received any income or capital distribution from them.
In November this year, Escor Group finance and investment director Michael Meehan filed an affidavit in the case on behalf of all of the defendants, noting he is “responsible” for maintaining their financial accounts.
Escor Group is a privately-owned company handling the “interests” of Robert Smorgon and his brother Jack Smorgon including investments, property and philanthropic activities.
Ms Smorgon’s brother Stephen is a director.
“Each defendant maintains that the plaintiff is not entitled to require that defendant to provide to her copies of the relevant documents,” Mr Meehan states in the affidavit, obtained by news.com.au.
According to Mr Meehan, two of the trusts are “passive” – holding assets but not engaged in business activities – and seven “can be described as ‘dormant’ … and do not make distributions of income or capital to beneficiaries”.
“The business activities of the (eight) active trusts include, but are not limited to, investments in equity managed funds, private equity, private equity funds, property and property development, and property managed funds,” the affidavit states.
“These business activities are such that some of the active trusts are party to joint ventures and other business relationships involving third party entities.”
Mr Meehan says there are “no relevant documents” for the dormant trusts.
“For the remaining trusts in respect of which the plaintiff (Samantha Smorgon) seeks orders, the relevant documents sought by the plaintiff contain confidential and commercially sensitive information,” he states.
“Each of the defendants objects to disclosure of the documents to the plaintiff on this basis also.”
Mr Meehan further claims Ms Smorgon’s request for documents to be produced “relating to the administration and management of the trusts” is “broad and uncertain”.
“It would appear to encompass every single document held by the defendants relating to the administration and management of the assets and investments of the trusts by the defendants, and the business activities of the active trusts,” he states.
According to Mr Meehan, the deeds on 16 trusts contain a clause “restricting disclosure to a beneficiary or any other person” of documents regarding trustee deliberations on the exercise of power, discretion or authority, adding to the objections from those he represents.
The case is expected to return to court in February next year.