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Macau tycoon sues family over casino empire

Chinese tycoon hands out cash in Taiwan
Hsinchu, Taiwan (AFP) Jan 27, 2011 - China's most famous philanthropist began distributing cash in Taiwan on Thursday, the first day of a controversial trip that has sparked criticism and protests from anti-China groups. Chen Guangbiao, who made his fortune recycling construction materials, handed Tw$7 million ($241,000) to charity groups in Hsinchu county in the island's north, amid accusations he was promoting reunification with China. "I don't know anything about propaganda for Chinese reunification. I only know about charity and environmental work. I just want to do good," 42-year-old Chen told AFP. China and Taiwan have been separated for more than 60 years, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, increasingly by trying to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese population. Chen's trip has stirred excitement, with one tearful woman saying she had travelled from Taipei to Hsinchu to ask for money to pay for her husband's funeral. She was stopped by police before getting near the mainland visitor.

Earlier in Taipei Chen, who is well-known in China for his flamboyant style of charity, held up a wad of Tw$2,000 notes spread out in a fan shape, surrounded by a crowd of photographers and cameramen. However his visit has also triggered considerable anger among some Taiwanese, with one commentator launching a diatribe during a talkshow which Chen took part in via a telephone link. A county government volunteer helping keep order in Hsinchu, where the funds are being distributed, described Chen's visit as "a propaganda ploy for reunification and a waste of time". According to William Niu, a political scientist at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, the mixed reactions to Chen's visit reveal deep-rooted cultural differences between the two sides.

"Taiwanese are more discreet when carrying out charitable acts," he told AFP. "It's also a face issue as by giving out money the Chinese show that they are richer now and are above us, so Chen is not welcome in some cities." Earlier in the day, Chen handed three traditional "red envelopes" containing a total of Tw$70,000 ($2,300) to a woman who had been waiting for him at his hotel in Taipei. "I've never counted so many banknotes. I don't know what to do. I will use the money to take care of my 88-year-old mother," the woman told reporters, her voice cracking with emotion.

His visit was not widely reported in the Chinese media, with state-controlled Xinhua news agency and others mainly quoting the Taiwanese press. Leading a group of businessmen from China, Chen arrived in Taipei late Wednesday. "I will deliver every penny that I've promised... and I hope to come every year," the tycoon told reporters at the airport. Chen has said that he planned to give away more than $15 million to the poor in Taiwan. Taiwan is five times wealthier than China in terms of gross domestic product per capita, even though the mainland's economy is more than 10 times larger than its neighbour's.
by Staff Writers
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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China world's third most visited country: UN
Madrid (AFP) Jan 26, 2011
China has replaced Spain as the world's third most visited country, behind France and the United States, figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation showed Wednesday. China had 55.98 million international arrivals last year, up 10 percent, edging past Spain, which received some 53 million foreign tourists, a rise of 1.4 percent, according to figures released by the Madrid-based body. ... read more

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