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SYDNEY, Australia-An appeals court has ruled in favor of Australia's wealthiest man, polo-playing media magnate Kerry Packer, in a dispute with eight insurers over coverage for the theft of gold worth more than $5.8 million Australian ($4.4 million).

Three judges from the New South Wales Court of Appeal overturned a Supreme Court of New South Wales decision in favor of the insurers by Judge Russell Bainton last year.

Mr. Packer is chairman of Sydney-based Consolidated Press Holdings Pty. Ltd., which owns a network of publishing and television companies in Australia and Asia and holds assets in plastics, cotton and mining.

Last spring, Mr. Packer's office was broken into, and gold bullion was stolen from his private safe. The gold was covered under the company's global property policy with per occurrence limits of $5 million Australian ($3.9 million) for bullion. The deductible was $1 million Australian ($773,000), some of which had been exhausted by other claims (BI, April 1, 1996).

The insurers, led by Royal Insurance (Global) Pty. Ltd., part of Sydney-based Sun Alliance & Royal Insurance Australia Holdings Pty. Ltd., paid $4.02 million Australian ($3.1 million). Mr. Packer's company, CPH, sued for an additional $742,049 Australian ($573,000), which Mr. Packer claimed he was entitled to because the policy was worded in such a way that the deductible should have been subtracted from the value of the gold, not the actual sum insured.

In handing down the ruling for the appellate court earlier this year, Judge Cole wrote that the policy showed that the claim "is not the maximum amount which the insurer is obliged to pay under the policy, but the true value of the loss suffered."

Judge Cole said the policyholder was correct that the deductible should be subtracted from the value of the gold and then the monetary cap should be applied.

Judge Cole made no order as to the sum to be paid to Mr. Packer but told the parties to come to an agreement. Rick Constable, Royal Global claims manager, said the parties were "currently discussing settlement" and would not comment further.

Judge Bainton criticized the policy wording in his initial judgment, and Judge Cole agreed that many of the clauses were unclear.

Judge Cole said the word "claims" was used in paragraphs where the word "losses" should have been used for the policy wording to "make commercial sense."

Royal Global confirmed it did not seek to appeal the ruling.