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Australian Super backtracked on airport valuation: Future Fund
Wednesday, 2 July 2014 12:00am

The Future Fund has accused AustralianSuper of backtracking on its own valuation of the Perth Airport, a dispute which is at the heart of the legal case one of the country's biggest superannuation funds is waging against Australia's sovereign wealth fund.

According to the defence the Future Fund has lodged with the Supreme Court of Victoria, AustralianSuper had previously agreed with the now disputed valuation and it believes AustralianSuper may be pursuing the legal action in a bid to achieve a commercial settlement.

A spokesperson for the Future Fund told Financial Standard that the "Future Fund is pleased to have finally been provided with the opportunity to lodge its defence with the Victorian Supreme Court. We have consistently and strongly maintained that Future Fund has acted appropriately at all times, and we totally reject the allegations of wrongful conduct that have been made.

"Future Fund remains confident in its position and will vigorously defend this matter."

In 2012 AustralianSuper accused the $98 billion Future Fund of breaching a shareholders' agreement in its $2 billion purchase of a stake in Perth airport from Australian Infrastructure Fund (AIX). The Future Fund is alleged to have man­ipulated the bidding process to put an artificially high price on the 29.7% Perth Airport stake to discourage other shareholders from exercising their pre-emptive rights.

AustralianSuper argued that the $875m price reportedly allocated by the Future Fund to the Perth airport prevented the industry fund's ­efforts to lift its stake in the asset from 5% to 15%.

However, in a defence lodged with the Supreme Court of Victoria based on discovery documents requested for the hearing, the Future Fund said AustralianSuper head of infrastructure Jason Peasley and investment analyst Matthew Fidge concluded on 15 February 2013, that the price allocated by the Future Fund was $19 million less than the "high case" $894 million valuation estimated by Australian Super's own portfolio team during a 6-month analysis.

Furthermore, the document reveals that "on or about 8 and 14 February 2013, at the request of Australian Super," Future Fund senior executives David Neal and Mark Burgess met with their AustralianSuper counter-parts chief executive Ian Silk and chief investment officer Mark Delaney.

The Future Fund said that in the first of these meetings Silk "said words to the effect that the offer price of $875 million for the Perth Airport Interest was within Australian Super's own valuation range."

The Future Fund's defence also said that AustralianSuper's portfolio team believed an acquisition of a further 10% would result in "acceptable exposures to both the asset and the sector." The Future Fund determines that this would have been difficult for Australian Super to achieve given the "all or nothing" operation of the pre-emptive rights in the shareholders' agreement.

The Future Fund also said an AustralianSuper investment committee report shows the fund was "contemplating a legal strategy which seeks to drive the parties to a commercial resolution", and that "any legal action should be considered only in the context of deriving a commercial outcome."

It added that AustralianSuper's own legal advice had said any "legal issues are with AIX and not Future Fund."

At the time of publishing Australian Super could not be reached for comment.

A direction hearing is due to take place on 18 July with the case unlikely to be heard until the end of the year.

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