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Nina’s estate set to go to administrators

Feng shui expert files application to preserve assets of HK$100b estate

IN HONG KONG

THE stage is set in Hong Kong for a feisty probate battle over the fortune of Nina Wang Kum Yu-sum, once Asia’s richest woman, and control of the sprawling Chinachem property empire.

The estate of Ms Wang, who died in April this year, is likely to be put in the hands of court-appointed administrators pending the outcome of what is expected to be a protracted legal fight over her estimated HK$100 billion (S$18.6 billion) fortune.

Feng shui expert and businessman Tony Chan Chun-chuen claims to be the sole beneficiary of the deceased tycoon’s estate and is set to square off with the Chinachem Charitable Foundation, which claims a 2002 will left everything in its name. The foundation is headed by family members of Ms Wang.

This week, Mr Chan made a bid to have independent administrators appointed to preserve the assets of Ms Wang’s estate. The application has been adjourned until Dec 10.

The administrators will establish who owns the shares in the Chinachem companies – one of Hong Kong’s biggest private developers – as well as other types of assets, according to John Lees, director of forensic accountant and corporate restructuring firm John Lees & Associates.

‘They would look after these to make sure the right people are dealing with them … both sides would be putting together a set of orders the court would have to approve,’ he said. Administrators may force the company to put further developments on hold pending the outcome of the court case.

This is not the first time that the assets of Chinachem have come under the spotlight. The group of companies was at the heart of a protracted legal battle between Ms Wang and her father-in-law, following the death of Chinachem founder Teddy Wang The-huei.

Teddy Wang vanished in 1990 at the hands of kidnappers. For the next nine years, Ms Wang insisted that her husband was still alive, until a court finally declared him dead in 1999 upon the wishes of his father, Wang Dinshin.

For the next eight years, Ms Wang and her father-in-law waged a bitter war over the estate of Teddy Wang. Nina Wang stayed at the helm of Chinachem throughout, but was accused by her father-in-law of faking a will to inherit his son’s estate. The will – signed ‘one life, one love’ – contradicted another that the tycoon had made in 1968 which would see his fortune bequeathed to his father.

During the trial, it emerged that the elder Wang had told his son that Ms Wang was having an affair. The court heard that Teddy was so angered by the infidelity that he had made the 1968 will, rescinding an earlier one that split his estate equally between his father and wife.

Although the High Court sided with the father-in-law, Ms Wang won at the top court, also stymieing any criminal proceedings against her. The total legal bill came to HK$562 million, but that was not an end to the affair: it had long been suspected that there were other individuals financing Mr Wang, and he defied a court order to reveal their identities.

Chinese press reports named various property personalities as being behind the litigation. Had Ms Wang lost, the Chinachem property fortune could have ended up in the hands of her rivals.

The elderly Mr Wang described these individuals in the Chinese-language press as ‘sympathetic and righteous lenders’, but refused to reveal their identities. In Hong Kong, third parties are barred from funding litigation on another’s behalf.

Ms Wang was ranked as the 154th richest person in the world by Forbes magazine last year. The litigation over her estate has left most of Hong Kong mystified: she battled for so long over her husband’s fortune that many are baffled as to how she herself could have had anything but a watertight legacy.

 

Source: Business Times 21 Nov 07

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