Dynastic distress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

Europe and the litigation-happy United States may be better known for dynastic power struggles but in recent years Asia has also hosted epic family feuds.

Close to home, the death in April of Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum, wife of chemicals magnate Teddy Wang Teh-huei (below, with Nina), has failed to end a dispute over her US$4 billion estate. Wang's husband was finally declared dead in 1999, after he had been missing for nearly a decade. A will naming her as sole heir was contested by her father-in-law, Wang Din-shin.

The bitter legal confrontation that followed dragged on for almost eight years, with the elder Wang accusing his daughter-in-law of forgery and adultery. In return, she highlighted his alleged appetite

for opium and concubines. The dispute looks set to re-enter the courts as members of the Wang family battle reclusive fung shui expert Tony Chan Chun-chuen, who has laid claim to her assets.

Just as acrimonious is the saga of South Korea's Chung family, the force behind the giant Hyundai Group. In 1997, patriarch Chung Ju-yung (above left) bypassed Confucian tradition and his firstborn, Chung Mong-koo (above centre), to name one of his younger sons, Chung Mong-hun (above right), second in command. Despite receiving the company's car division, Mong-koo attempted to unseat his sibling.

Three years later, when government pressure to reform forced the elder Chung to announce he and his feuding offspring would retire, the dutiful Mong-hun did so immediately. But Mong-koo refused to relinquish his post, arguing the removal order was 'invalid' as his father had failed to consult him or Hyundai Motor Group's board.

Mong-koo prevailed but at a price. His father passed away in 2001 and Mong-hun, tainted by revelations a company under his control had funnelled millions of dollars to the North Korean government, took his own life. Mong-koo remains firmly in charge at Hyundai Motor and, despite being convicted of embezzlement last year, has so far managed to dodge a jail sentence.

Even Asia's royals aren't immune to family strife. The usually sleepy sultanate of Brunei, on the island of Borneo, awoke in 2000 to the news that ruler Hassanal Bolkiah (below, right) was suing his brother, Jefri Bolkiah (below), for siphoning off more than US$108 billion from the national investment agency. Last year, the sultan agreed to drop the charges, but his brother was forced to remain in exile in Europe and to auction off some of his dearest possessions, including a US$12 million Airbus flight simulator, a 7,000-tonne stash of Italian marble and gold-plated toilet brushes.