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Australian billionaire Rinehart pulls ahead in bid for major land holding
[SYDNEY] Australia's richest woman Gina Rinehart is in the box seat to buy the country's largest private land holding, cattle and pastoral tracts the size of South Korea, after a rival bidder dropped out.
The BBHO consortium - made up of a group of outback cattle families - said on Friday it was withdrawing its A$386 million (S$409 million) offer for S. Kidman & Co. despite receiving a"strong groundswell of public support."
The decision follows a pledge by Ms Rinehart a day earlier to buy the land holdings outright if her A$386.5 million joint bid with Chinese partner Shanghai CRED, which requires approval by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), was rejected on national interest grounds.
A source close to the bidding process told Reuters that Ms Rinehart's undertaking to buy S. Kidman alone if necessary killed off the BBHO bid, which was relying on its all-Australian status. "That was decisive," the source said. "If they had continued it would have resulted in a financial shoot-out they couldn't win."
Ownership of S. Kidman has been a lightning rod for concerns about the sale of Australian agriculture and other key assets to foreign investors.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison twice blocked its the sale to China-led interests, opening the way for rival offers including those lodged by Ms Rinehart and BBHO.
"We are disciplined investors in Australian rural assets and made what we believed to be a full and fair offer," the BBHO consortium, comprising cattlemen Tom Brinkworth, Sterling Buntine, Malcolm Harris and Viv Oldfield, said in a statement.
Ms Rinehart is Australia's richest woman with a net worth of US$11.7 billion, according to Forbes, based on an iron ore empire in Australia's mineral-rich Pilbara, where she grew up.
Bidders could still lodge a competing offer before the Dec 9 deadline.