A libel dispute between two historic aircraft enthusiasts over alleged looting of aircraft wrecks in Papua New Guinea has come to an abrupt end.
The case was suddenly withdrawn on the fifth day of the trial.
Robert Greinert and John Brooker were formerly members of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS), an amateur group founded in 1979 and based south of Wollongong.
But their friendship faltered and in 2017 took a nosedive when Mr Greinert filed a libel suit against Mr Brooker in the NSW Supreme Court.
He alleged that Mr Brooker defamed him in comments to 60 Minutes reporter Ross Coulthart, as part of a 2016 article alleging that Mr Greinert illegally exported war relics from PNG.
The libel case dragged through the court system for four long years before Mr Greinert appeared in court on Monday, September 6, 2021.
But on Friday, after testifying and cross-examining, Mr Greinert dropped the lawsuit and agreed to pay Mr Brooker’s costs.
A spokesperson for Mr Greinert told NCA NewsWire he had “agreed to cover Mr Brooker’s costs in a business settlement of a case which, had it continued, would have been very costly , would have taken a long time and distracted Mr Greinert from other business interests.
Mr Greinert said in a statement he was “happy to put the case behind him”.
“I undertook the procedure reluctantly as Mr Brooker and I were once very good friends and co-workers,” he said.
“Given the costs involved in pursuing the case and the third parties were unnecessarily involved in my lawsuit, it is best that everyone involved move on.”
Mr Brooker’s attorney, Bill Kalantzis, called Mr Greinert’s choice to sue his client and not Channel 9 as “more unusual”.
“Mr. Greinert withdrew his case at the end of his testimony after nearly three days of cross-examination and before Mr. Brooker testified,” Mr. Kalantzis said.
“As part of the withdrawal from his case, Mr. Greinert agreed to pay Mr. Brooker’s costs at the highest scale, known as the Basis of Compensation.”
Much of HARS would hunt war relics wherever they might be, in places as close as regional dumpsites and as far away as the Arizona desert, and restore them for display in a museum or even a flight.
The defamation case centered on a 1998 agreement between Mr. Greinert and the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery regarding three plane wrecks
Mr Brooker alleged on the 60 Minutes show that Mr Greinert signed the agreement on behalf of HARS when he did not have the authority to do so.
He also told the program that the seal used by Mr. Greinert was “a forgery” and read “Historic Aircraft Restoration Society” instead of “Historical Aircraft Restoration Society”.
Mr. Greinert claimed that these were lies which seriously damaged his reputation and caused him harm and embarrassment.
His lawyer Kieran Smark SC told the court that Mr Brooker had complained about Mr Greinert and HARS to the Fair Trade Department and the police, but authorities had only come to the “unsurprising conclusion that HARS could have done a better job with their accounting.
In response to the lawsuit, Mr Brooker filed defenses of truth, honest opinion, and qualified privilege, which require someone to act reasonably in releasing information in the public interest.
In court documents, Mr Brooker said he spoke in part because he was concerned about the impact of Mr Greinert’s actions on the people of PNG and the reputation of HARS.
“(Mr. Brooker) knew that there was very little chance that Robert Greiner’s misconduct would be exposed by anyone within the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society due to Greinert’s financial influence on the company,” said declared his defense.
The case was officially closed on September 10.
Mr Greinert also sued another 60 Minutes interviewee, Benjamin Morgan, in the same lawsuit, but the couple settled ahead of the trial.