Winnie Ho acts to block ICBC's Seng Heng deal
Winnie Ho Yuen-ki, the estranged sister of gaming magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun, yesterday filed a lawsuit in Macau seeking a court order to block Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's HK$4.54 billion acquisition of Seng Heng Bank, claiming the sale was illegitimate.
Ms Ho's suit alleges ICBC's August purchase of a 79.93 per cent stake in Macau's second-largest locally incorporated lender from Mr Ho's private conglomerate Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM) was illegal because STDM's own registry of shareholders is flawed, invalidating any decision by the Macau company to cash out of Seng Heng.
The suit says records of STDM's shareholding structure were compromised over the years and questions the interests in the firm claimed by Mr Ho's Lanceford Company Limited, the late Henry Fok Ying-tung's charitable foundation and New World Development chairman Cheng Yu-tung's Many Town Company Limited, among others.
Shareholders in ICBC, the world's biggest bank by market capitalisation, are due to vote on the acquisition this morning at an extraordinary general meeting in Beijing.
Ms Ho on Monday sent letters outlining her complaints to ICBC chairman Jiang Jianqing, as well as the China Banking Regulatory Commission, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange and the Monetary Authority of Macau. Completion of the transaction is conditional on obtaining approval from all three regulators.
'The purpose [of the letters] is to draw their attention to the situation and the particular background of this case,' Ms Ho's Hong Kong legal counsel, Albert Ho Chun-yan, said yesterday at a press conference. 'Hopefully the purchaser will be cautious. We don't want them to land in trouble by seeking to push through a transaction which may be voided.'
The Seng Heng deal would give ICBC a foothold in a booming market where total bank lending grew 23.2 per cent in July to 57.8 billion patacas and where rival mainland lenders including Bank of China already have a substantial presence via its own branch network and a controlling stake in Tai Fung Bank, Macau's largest local lender.
Seng Heng, founded in 1972 and acquired by STDM in 1989, has nine branches in the enclave. It had total assets of HK$24.64 billion at the end of last year and booked HK$346 million in annual profit.