Court challenge to Wang will

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2007, 12:00am

Writ seeks document signed in 2006 to be ruled invalid

Lawyers for a charity that was the beneficiary of a 2002 will by Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum filed a writ in the High Court yesterday asking that a later will purporting to leave her estate to fung shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen be ruled invalid.

Brian Gilchrist, a lawyer for the Chinachem Charitable Foundation, said the battle for the will would take at least six to nine months to reach court.

Mr Chan, 48, has claimed Wang made him the sole beneficiary of the estate on October 16 last year.

But the writ filed yesterday declares that a document signed by Wang on July 28, 2002, to be her only true will.

Mr Gilchrist described as 'pretty accurate' reports that the 2002 will gives all Wang's property to the Chinachem Charitable Foundation Limited, names the UN secretary-general, the Chinese premier and the chief executive of Hong Kong as administrators, and makes provision for the care of her family.

Wang, who was childless, died of cancer on April 3, leaving an estate worth up to HK$100 billion.

Mr Gilchrist, a partner at Johnson Stokes & Master, who represented Wang during the earlier battle over her husband's estate - which also involved two wills - said the writ was the first step in resolving the dispute over the empire of Asia's richest woman.

Mr Gilchrist's firm will serve the writ on Haldanes, Mr Chan's representatives, who then have 14 days to respond.

The filing of the writ and a period of correspondence between the parties was standard procedure when an estate was contested, he said.

'Realistically, if it's going to be contested then it's going to be at least six to nine months before the dispute reaches a courtroom.'

Until then, most of the time would be spent working out the contentious issues in conjunction with Mr Chan's lawyers.

Asked if the saga risked echoing Charles Dickens' classic novel Bleak House, in which a fictional estate is ground down to nothing by the costs of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce legal battle, Mr Gilchrist said the aim was to avoid such a situation.

'It would be nice if we could do that in a very focused and detailed way so we can avoid a long trial,' he said.

The Court of Final Appeal, in a judgment last year on more than HK$520 million in legal costs associated with the battle over Teddy Wang Teh-huei's will, noted that estates as large as Chinachem were bound to spend some time in court.

But Mr Gilchrist said the time could be reduced if the various parties were given a realistic amount of time to prepare and talk before the hearings began.

'We've certainly learned from the experience with Teddy Wang when we got some fairly short deadlines at the outset that led to a more protracted trial,' Mr Gilchrist said.

'That perhaps could have been avoided if we'd had a bit more time at the beginning to get our respective houses properly in order.'

Lawmaker and barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he expected proceedings to last even longer than the original dispute.

Mr Tong said key issues would be the true intentions of Nina Wang and whether the two wills were complimentary.

Jonathan Midgley, lawyer for Mr Chan, said the writs filed yesterday were not threatening and were part of normal legal procedure.