Media mogul faces enormous costs after Ben Roberts-Smith’s loss

Media mogul Kerry Stokes may have to foot an eye-watering bill after backing decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith in the biggest defamation trial in Australia’s history.

Mr Stokes, Seven West’s executive chairman, employed Mr Roberts-Smith in Queensland and supported his legal effort.

In the fallout from the Afghanistan veteran’s massive court loss on Thursday, it’s estimated the costs could hit $25 million.

Mr Stokes released a brief statement saying the Federal Court judgment “does not accord with the man I know”.

“I know this will be particularly hard for Ben, who has always maintained his innocence,” he said on Thursday.

In a separate statement to The Sydney Morning Herald, a Seven spokesman said: “Ben remains on leave and will review the judgment with us and make a decision on his future in the near future.

“We will make no further comment at this time.”

Mr Roberts-Smith is the general manager of Seven in Queensland, but was on leave throughout the long-running defamation case.

The 44-year-old was spotted poolside in Bali on Wednesday in footage aired on the Nine Network.

Lawyers for Nine, owner of the mastheads involved in the defamation battle, told the Federal Court during the trial they would seek to have “third party” entities cover their costs if Mr Roberts-Smith was unable to.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the case is estimated to have cost both sides a total of about $25 million.

Will Roberts-Smith be charged?

The most highly decorated Australian soldier from Afghanistan, Mr Roberts-Smith may still avoid facing criminal charges despite a judge finding he committed war crimes.

Justice Anthony Besanko on Thursday concluded that articles by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times implicating Mr Roberts-Smith for murders in the war were substantially true.

But whether or not the now-disgraced former soldier is criminally liable remains separate and “hypothetical”, according to Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James.

“A civil law case has nothing to do with criminal charges. Absolutely nothing,” Mr James, also a former soldier, said.

“Just because you lose a defamation case, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be charged with war crimes.

“They’re unconnected.”

Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith in Afghanistan. Photo: AAP/AWM

Mr James said Australia needed to act on war crimes outlined in the ground-breaking report by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force released in 2020.

Conducted by Major General Brereton, the inquiry found credible information of 23 incidents in which 39 individuals were unlawfully killed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

“The Brereton inquiry … established that at least in some cases there were war crimes,” Mr James said.

“The fact that no Australian has yet been convicted of that doesn’t alter the fact that they happened.

“Therefore, the ADF and the country have to do certain steps to stop them happening again.”

Former SAS soldier Oliver Jordan Schulz, who was also deployed in Afghanistan, has been criminally charged over the alleged killing of an unarmed Afghan man in a wheat field in 2012.

Mr Roberts-Smith has not been officially charged with any crime and maintains his innocence.

“Whatever you may think of Ben Roberts-Smith, he’s the most highly decorated soldier of the Afghanistan war,” Mr James said.

“Irrespective of what you think of him in other ways, he’s got to be respected for that.”


Publishers of The Age, The SMH and The Canberra Times heralded the historic win as vindication and a “critical step for justice”.

Nine publisher James Chessell said the finding vindicated journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters and confirmed Mr Roberts-Smith breached the Geneva Convention, in a critical step towards justice for victims’ families.

McKenzie, who penned several of the contested articles, said it was “small justice” for Mr Roberts-Smith’s Afghan victims.

“Ali Jan was the man kicked off the cliff,” he said.

“He has children who no longer have a father.

“He has a wife who no longer has a husband.

“He was kicked off a cliff by Ben Roberts-Smith.”

Ben Roberts-Smith was reportedly in Bali when the Federal Court judgment was delivered. Photo: 9News

Mr Roberts-Smith was absent from court when the judgment was handed down on Thursday.

“He came almost every day but he did not come to the day of judgment,” McKenzie said.

“He’s in Bali, doing whatever he’s doing.

“We’re here to welcome justice and the truth.”

Masters said the decision to run the stories would go down in media history as one of the great calls.

Mr Roberts-Smith has 42 days to lodge an appeal after his barrister, Arthur Moses, successfully argued for a time limit extension.

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