Scam exploits Nina Wang estate dispute

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2008, 12:00am

Con men circulate bogus letter

Internet fraudsters are exploiting the mystery fung shui man at the centre of a legal tussle over the HK$100 billion fortune of late Chinachem tycoon Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum - by using his name to dupe people into parting with their money.

Despite a dispute over who has the right to her estate, con men posing as enigmatic businessman Tony Chan Chun-chuen are circulating a bogus letter stating that he is already 'sole custodian' of the tycoon's estate and is looking for help to open a secret bank account in Europe to deposit funds from it.

Police say the letter - to which the Sunday Morning Post replied seeking more information and received a prompt and detailed return letter - is almost a carbon copy of the well-known '419' Nigerian advance fee fraud letters.

Property tycoon Mr Chan, 49, emerged soon after Wang's death from cancer last April to claim her estate and has gone to ground amid a media frenzy over his credentials.

He acted as her fung shui adviser from the mid-1990s and the two are rumoured to have had a close relationship. His lawyer, Jonathan Midgely, who also acted for Wang, said he was glad the police had been alerted to the letter, adding that Mr Chan would not comment and was not in Hong Kong.

'This letter has nothing whatsoever to do with my client,' Mr Midgely said. 'However, we are happy that you have brought this to our attention and to that of the police's commercial crime bureau.'

In the letter, the author claims to be Mr Chan and describes himself as 'a friend and a close confidant to [sic] Nina Wang Kung who passed away on the 3rd of April 2007'.

It claims that he is the 'sole custodian' of a 'huge sum of her estate', adding: 'She left strict instructions that I hand over the money to charity and also that under no circumstance [sic] should I let any of her late husband's relatives and ever [sic] her own relatives, lay their hands on the money. Contrary to media reports, she made sure her immediate family is well,' the letter states.

In a reply to further inquiries by the Post posing as an interested party, a second letter was received detailing a 'Hanseng [sic] Bank China' account with US$12 million and asking for 'absolute confidentiality, transparency and trust' and 'secrecy to avoid distractions and complications in achieving our goals', which were to deposit the US$12 million in an 'offshore European bank'. It ends with 'Thanks and may the stars guide us in the right path', and is signed Tony Chan C.

A police spokesman said: 'The e-mail has all the hallmarks of the usual '419' Nigerian frauds. It highlights the death of a wealthy person and explains the amount of funds involved, attempting to provide plausible explanations why the funds need to be disbursed in a secretive and 'under the table' fashion.

'When a recipient of the e-mail responds, the fraudster will explain the procedures of transferring the funds and eventually induce him to advance large sums of money as a ruse for administration/handling fees.

'Once paid, the victim will not be able to contact the fraudster again.'

The latest twist in the Nina Wang story comes as lawyers for Mr Chan - who claims Asia's richest woman signed a will in 2006 leaving her entire estate to him - consider their response to a rival claim over her estate from the Chinachem Charitable Foundation, which Wang set up with the main aim of establishing a Chinese equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Brian Gilchrist, lawyer for the foundation, said he expected a hearing on the estate would take place early next year because of the complicated nature of the case.

The 419 scam letters originated many years ago in Nigeria and are so called because the number relates to the section of the African country's penal code that deals with fraud.

A police source said: 'I am amazed that people worldwide still fall for these scams. People fall for letters telling them they have won the lottery when they haven't even entered it.'