Billionaire’s bill for Ben Roberts-Smith’s failed suit

Three Federal Court judges have heard 10 days of arguments in Ben Roberts-Smith's appeal.

Three Federal Court judges have heard 10 days of arguments in Ben Roberts-Smith's appeal. Photo: AAP

Billionaire Kerry Stokes’ private investment vehicle will contribute to the mammoth legal bill of former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith’s failed defamation action.

Mr Roberts-Smith sued Nine newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as well as the Canberra Times over reports that a judge ruled in June painted a “substantially true” image of him as a war criminal involved in four murders while serving in Afghanistan.

He has not been criminally charged and is appealing the judgment that dismissed his defamation action, first launched in 2018.

His former employer Seven Network and its chairman Mr Stokes’ private investment vehicle Australian Capital Equity (ACE) partially funded the defamation case against newspapers published by Fairfax, now owned by the Nine Network, its commercial rival.

The newspapers sought a third-party costs application, arguing ACE and Seven influenced the case and had a greater financial interest in the outcome than Mr Roberts-Smith and should pay Nine’s costs for defending it.

Seven Network and ACE were ordered to reveal communications relating to the case, with the first documents due on Friday.

After contesting the order through failed appeals and courtroom stoushes as recently as Thursday, ACE was ordered on Monday to cough up the funds.

The subpoenas sought documents including emails, file notes, text messages and encrypted communications between the parties.

Mr Roberts-Smith has also been ordered to pay costs on an indemnity basis dating to August 2018 after a judge ruled in November the former soldier knew a number of the allegations were true when he sued.

Estimates have pegged the total cost of the case, which took the Federal Court more than 100 days to hear, at exceeding $25 million.

The parties will be given the chance to agree on a final sum with the case returning to court for a management hearing on Tuesday.

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