Billionaire dies just as scam charge dropped

By Dan Goldberg, April 30, 2009
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Richard Pratt, a billionaire Australian industrialist, has died from prostate cancer — the day after a criminal case against him was dropped.

Mr Pratt’s reputation as a businessman and generous philanthropist was tarnished in 2007 when his company was fined a record £17.5 million for collusion in a price-fixing scam with a rival.

Citing Mr Pratt’s terminal illness, prosecutors on Monday dropped a case accusing him of giving false or misleading evidence to the corporate watchdog.

As he lay on his deathbed last week, Mr Pratt, 74, received well-wishers, including prime ministers past and present. Israeli President Shimon Peres and former PM Ehud Barak are understood to have called to bid farewell.

As a child, he fled Poland with his parents on the eve of Holocaust, finding success in Australia as he built Visy Industries, a global packaging and recycling empire that employed more than 8,500 people.

The “cardboard king” was listed as Australia’s fourth-richest man, by Business Review Weekly magazine’s annual rich list, with an estimated fortune of more than £2.6 billion.

His charitable fund, The Pratt Foundation, disburses about £6.8 million a year, much of it to Jewish charities in Australia and Israel. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hailed Mr Pratt as “one of Australia’s leading philanthropists over a long period of time”.

An avid Australian rules footballer in the 1950s, Pratt also took to the stage and performed on Broadway and in London’s West End in the late 1950s and 1960s, before taking over the family packaging company. Mr Pratt was also an amateur boxer in his youth, and later helped to bring Muhammad Ali to Australia.

In 2000, Australian media revealed that he had fathered a child with his former mistress, Shari-Lea Hitchcock.

Last year, Pratt handed back his Companion of the Order of Australia — the highest honour Australia bestows on its citizens — to avoid controversy.

    Last updated: 10:57am, April 30 2009