New York, USA – 21 September, 2023 — Legal proceedings have been instructed in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia against Peter Holmes à Court, son of Australia’s first billionaire, and journalists Michael West and Callum Foote. These parties are implicated in a scandal to extort Rayo Withanage, the owner of Picasso’s final estate in the South of France.
Body: Rayo Withanage is suing the parties for myriad causes of action, including attempted extortion, conspiracy to extort, tortious interference with business, defamation, and libel, misappropriation and publication of proprietary, confidential information arising of publication by Michael West Media of an error-ridden article dated 20 September 2023. Withanage’s General Counsel, William S. Beslow Esq., is widely regarded as one of the top litigators in the world, having advised Robert De Niro, Nicole Kidman and Harvey Keitel. Beslow has taken charge of bringing proceedings in multiple jurisdictions. Beslow commented, “The article was written recklessly, without fact-checking, and with malice by Callum Foote.”
Peter Holmes à Court, a former employee of Withanage, leaked proprietary research and development concept papers to journalists Michael West and Callum Foote as part of an attempt to extort Withanage for money. Holmes à Court furnished the journalists in question with non-public, proprietary information with a litany of falsehoods by Foote designed to cause reputational and financial damage Withanage.
PETER HOLMES A COURT
Holmes à Court was employed in May 2023 to assist Withanage in research and development projects attached to the estate. During his brief employment, it became apparent that Holmes à Court had embellished his purported skills, network (both personal and professional), and net worth. Withanage commented, “We had high hopes for Mr. Holmes a Court’s employment, and we regret that the situation has deteriorated to such an extent due to Mr. Holmes à Court’s actions.”
Withanage’s management team had serious concerns about Holmes à Court’s mental health, as he subjected senior staff to several emotional tirades and often spoke about purported plots in which others had threatened his life. Holmes à Court has suffered a series of financial troubles, failed businesses and abrupt resignations over the past two decades. Withanage’s female employees complained of harassment by Holmes à Court. Employees at the Picasso Estate also raised issues with Holmes à Court’s racist attitudes, such as referring to the conduct of Sri Lankan employees as like “that of a corner store.” Rizmi Niyas, the CFO of the Picasso Estate commented; “Mr Holmes à Court refused to turn up to work after two disciplinary actions for attempted side dealing and outrageous expense claims.”
Upon receiving a request to leave the Picasso Estate, Holmes à Court threatened Withanage and his partners in the Brunei Royal Family to the press in an effort to coerce a substantial amount of money from him. Withanage rebuffed Holmes à Court’s effort to extort him. Having failed in his attempt to extort Withanage, Holmes à Court leaked proprietary and confidential information about the Picasso Estate to Michael West Media.
Callum Foote joined Michael West Media in 2019. Michael West Media published Holmes à Court’s materials on September 20 in an article that was riddled with inaccuracies designed to malign Withanage with substantial misinformation. Foote did not attempt to engage in a conversation with Withanage or his personal representative.
Beslow commented “Mr. Foote’s article claimed that Mr. Withanage had represented that he is worth $30 billion – which is absurd and patently false. He insinuated, with no factual basis therefore, that Mr. Withanage had violated regulatory requirements. It seems clear that Mr Foote heavily embellished information from documents that were in Holmes à Court’s possession in order to misrepresent Mr. Withanage’s business interests.”
It is notable that Foote has previously demonstrated a cavalier attitude and disregard towards factual accuracy in his reporting. The University of Wollongong declared Foote’s article about the University to be “inaccurate” and “reckless and sensationalist.” Foote’s article often does not accurately spell the names of Withanage’s companies or employees and demonstrates a surprising reliance on LinkedIn and Wikipedia as sources. Noting that the article references Withanage’s “exotic connections,” Beslow commented: “this an obvious scurrilous reference to and denigration of Mr. Withanage’s family heritage and the people of Brunei. This casts serious doubt as to the accuracy and reliability of Foote’s reporting.”
The article of 20 September 2023 is the second article about Withanage connected to Michael West, following an article in 2015.
Michael West Media was founded by Michael West following his redundancy from the Sydney Morning Herald in 2016. In 2015, during his tenure at the Sydney Morning Herald, West wrote an article which cast aspersions on Withanage’s business activities, insinuating that Scepter Partners’ bid for Santos was not genuine. West’s article was not fact checked and denigrated Withanage’s background and qualifications, as well as attempting to malign members of the Brunei Royal Family. Such baseless disparagement has been a consistent theme for both West and Holmes a Court. In 2017, Withanage returned for a second bid on Santos after employing the Asian Blackstone advisory team with a fully funded offer. This was covered in an article by Matthew Stevens in the Australian Financial Review in 2018. The bid was bona fide with proof of funds and one of the strongest management teams in the energy business.
Michael West Media proceeded to publish such inaccurate information in the article, notwithstanding their prior receipt of an email from Beslow. This email advised them that Withanage would commence litigation against any person who leaked non-public, proprietary information about the Picasso Estate and against any person or entity which published non-public, proprietary information about the Picasso Estate. This disregard is characteristic of West’s indifferent attitude towards legal protections and rights, as West once stated, “There’s lawyers hanging around dying to sue me; waiting for me to slip up. But all that’s quite good fun. I like that adrenaline side of the game”.
The inaccuracies in the article and the troubling circumstances in which Michael West Media published the article call into question the independence, integrity, and professionalism of both Michael West Media and Foote. Michael West Media and its “independent journalists” claim to track the influence of wealth and power on democracy. This mission statement is clearly in conflict with the publication of an article containing a plethora of unverified, untruthful statements made by the disgruntled son of an Australian billionaire.
Name: William S. Beslow Esq.
Phone Number: +1 917 797 6494
Email address: [email protected]