Macau tycoon sues family over casino empire
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 27, 2011
Macau tycoon Stanley Ho is suing relatives he has accused of trying to steal his vast casino empire, the latest twist after a bizarre TV appearance that seemed to end the nasty family feud.
Within hours of appearing on a local television station to say the row had been resolved, the 89-year-old tycoon filed a lawsuit late Wednesday in Hong Kong's High Court. The suit seeks an injunction to stop relatives from claiming ownership over his SJM holdings, the centrepiece of Ho's $3.1 billion fortune.
The claim, which appears to be signed by Ho, also seeks unspecified damages against four of the 11 defendants, including three of his children -- two of whom, Pansy and Lawrence Ho, run rival gambling concessions in Macau.
It alleges the group "improperly and/or illegally" moved to change the share structure at a holding company that ultimately controls Ho's flagship firm, whose interests including 17 Macau casinos and several hotels.
On Thursday, Gordon Oldham, a lawyer acting for Ho, insisted Ho had been coerced into reconciling with family members on live television on Wednesday, with the wheelchair-bound tycoon struggling to read a giant cue card.
"He said that he felt very pressurised by his family to read out that statement. He wasn't at all happy in doing so", Oldham told Hong Kong broadcaster Cable News.
The feud has garnered international media attention, much of it focused on the colourful Ho -- who turned the former Portuguese colony of Macau into Asia's gambling capital -- and his complicated family tree with 17 children born to four women whom he refers to as his wives.
Oldham has told AFP that Ho was legally married only to the first woman, Clementina, who died in 2004, and that the rest were mistresses. The South China Morning Post reported that Ho also married his second wife, Lucina Laam, before Hong Kong's polygamy laws changed in the early 1970s.
Laam is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Ho's third "wife," Ina Chan.
Observers said the giant clan has long been wracked by internal strife, with nasty sibling rivalries and a reputedly tight-fisted patriarch. The disputed share transfer gives the bulk of Ho's fortune to his second and third families.
"Some of the kids have the reputation of being distinctly damaged goods, and who knows what they are capable of," said author Joe Studwell, whose "Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia" takes an inside look at the region's super-rich.
On Wednesday, Ho and Clementina's daughter Angela Ho questioned whether her father wanted to cut her and her two living siblings out of their inheritance.
"My father has always prided himself on being a fair, just and honest person and I cannot believe that may father would leave my mother's family with nothing at all," she said in a statement.
Angela Ho added that efforts to contact a trio of daughters from her father's second and third families had failed, saying "they have ignored me".
The aggrieved daughter said her mother's connections were key to her father securing a monopoly on Macau casinos from the 1960s until 2002, when the city granted licences to rival firms including some major Las Vegas players.
Macau, the only city in China that allows casino gambling, has boomed with about $23.5 billion in gaming revenue last year -- four times as much as the Las Vegas Strip.
Ho, once a keen ballroom dancer known for his playboy lifestyle, was hospitalised in mid-2009 for unspecified reasons and released months later, stoking questions about the future of his gambling empire.
Shares in Hong Kong-listed SJM fell 3 percent on Thursday to HK$12.72 ($1.63), with the stock down almost 12 percent since the now-disputed share transfer was made public on Monday.
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