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Family of HK tycoon fights over $1.4 bln from estate

2011-12-29 10:29     Web Editor: Su Jie comment
Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung dies in Beijing in 2006 at the age of 83, leaving a HK$28.9 billion-inheritance and his business empire to his family.

Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung dies in Beijing in 2006 at the age of 83, leaving a HK$28.9 billion-inheritance and his business empire to his family.

( battles over HK$1.4 billion (US$180 million) from the estate of Hong Kong's late tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung have dominated headlines since Benjamin Fok Chun-yue, Henry's youngest son from his first marriage, sued his brother Ian Fok Chun-wan for breaching his duties as executor on December 19.

Benjamin filed a lawsuit in the High Court asking to strip Ian of the role of co-executor of Fok's estate, accusing him of "pocketing" HK$1.4 billion from the estate, reported The Standard, a Hong Kong-based business newspaper.

He is also trying to remove his aunt Fok Mo-kan as "executrix of the estate," claiming that the 85-year-old has not played any role in the administration of the estate.

Moreover, Benjamin named 14 other co-defendants, reported The Wall Street Journal, including his 11 other siblings, his mother and Henry's two other widows, who are all supposedly beneficiaries of the estate.

According to Benjamin's writ, Ian has unilaterally appropriated assets belonging to their father without the knowledge or consent of his co-executors, and even threatened family members to sign documents he had prepared for the administration of the estate, "with a view to his obtaining sole control over HFE (Henry Fok Estates) to the exclusion of the other members of the first family and the other beneficiaries."

The assets include US$184 million worth of funds and assets held by their father's companies and accounts, including 350 ordinary shares registered in the name of Waterborne, the entire shareholding in three offshore companies.

Currently, Benjamin is reportedly seeking to appoint KPMG and experts to assist the executors in investigating "the full extent of the assets and liabilities of the estate" and re-evaluate Henry's assets, including lands, buildings, jewelry and antiques.

He also wants an order to replace Ian and Fok Mo-kan by Court of Appeal judge Anthony Rogers, or another person, to administrate the estate, revealed The Standard.

Joseph A. Field, a partner at Withers, an international commercial law firm, commented in an interview with the First Financial Daily that rich parents in Asian countries are likely to leave estates to their children, hoping that their offspring will live peacefully with each other. Yet things usually go awry, he added.

Field explained that when he first came to Asia about 30 years ago, few members of wealthy families fought against each other in court, but now the situation has changed dramatically.

"On the one hand, because rich families are building up much larger fortunes than before, there is more wealth for the children to inherit. On the other hand, many of the young generation of the big families have studied in foreign countries and are not afraid to get a fair piece of the inheritance by resorting to law," analyzed Field.

In European and American countries, Joseph noted, parents are likely to negotiate the estate distribution with their kids before they die; but in China, where Confucianism prevails, it is still a groundbreaking practice.

Money is the root of all evil, as the saying goes, which is probably true given the fierce battle between the brothers. Statistics show that Henry Fok, who died in 2006 at the age of 83, left a HK$28.9 billion inheritance and business empire to his family.

Dubbed the "Godfather of real estate," Henry expanded his businesses to many other industries while pocketing tidy profits from the real estate market. He teamed up with burgeoning casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun to snap up a government-granted gambling monopoly in 1961.

Fok was listed as the 181st richest man in the world this year by Forbes Magazine, reportedly with most of his fortune coming from his stake in Ho's company.

Possibly the most powerful Hongkonger in mainland politics, Henry was vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

He leaves three wives and 13 children. His third wife, Lam Sook-duen, died on December 9. Most of his children are high-profile socialites and often receive media attention, according to The Standard, especially legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee.

But according to Henry's will, only the children of his first wife are allowed to take over the family business. All of his other children are now building careers in fields such as law and medicine.

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