Wife defines stakes in oil baron's divorce battle: $17 billion

Aug 16 2014, 15:18 IST
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Oklahoma oilman and Continental Resources chief executive Harold Hamm. (Reuters) Oklahoma oilman and Continental Resources chief executive Harold Hamm. (Reuters)
SummaryMore than $17 billion of Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm's fortune could be subject to division with his estranged wife...

More than $17 billion of Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm's fortune could be subject to division with his estranged wife, according to an economic analysis presented in their divorce trial, defining the stakes in one of the biggest battles ever over a marital estate.

The analysis of Kenneth Button, an expert witness hired by Sue Ann Hamm, was laid out in court testimony and in a document provided to Reuters by Oklahoma County Judge Howard Haralson. It is one of the first pieces of financial testimony to be released from the trial, which has been conducted mostly in secrecy.

In an uncommon step for a divorce case, Haralson has barred the public from the courtroom on most days and sealed most of the evidence. He says he is trying to protect shareholders in Hamm's Continental Resources from the release of confidential business information. Through his 68 percent stake in Continental, a leading driller in North Dakota, Harold Hamm is believed to own the most oil in the ground of any American.

The document, a trial exhibit marked "confidential business information," is a 122-page report compiled by Button, a PhD economist. Haralson released the report after determining it isn't subject to the protective order he has placed in the case.

Button's report contends that up to $15 billion of the growth in Continental's market capitalization during the period he studied is "active" marital capital, or subject to division between the spouses. Button crunched data from the years between the couple's 1988 wedding and February 2014.

Since then, Continental's value has grown by nearly $4 billion more, adding to the wealth the court may divide, Button said in court last week. About $2.6 billion of that appreciation would accrue to Harold through his 68 percent stake in Continental.

All told, Button's analysis suggests that the marital capital subject to division could add up to some $17.6 billion.

If Judge Haralson accepts Button's reasoning and awards Sue Ann a significant share of the marital estate, the Hamm split could yield the largest divorce settlement ever. If Hamm has to sell Continental shares to finance a large settlement, his control of the company could be eroded.

Attorneys for Harold Hamm and for Continental didn't respond to questions for this article. Harold's witnesses will testify later in the trial, which began last week and is expected to end in October.

What caused Continental's increase in value is critical to the outcome. Under Oklahoma law,

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