Winnie Ho seeks judicial review on decision to approve SJM float

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2008, 12:00am

Winnie Ho Yuen-ki, the estranged sister of SJM Holdings chairman Stanley Ho Hung-sun, yesterday filed a last-minute High Court action seeking to derail the HK$5.1 billion initial public offering of her brother's casino empire, whose shares are set to begin trading on Thursday morning.

Lawyers for Ms Ho filed an application in the Court of First Instance, seeking a judicial review 'to bring up and quash' a decision by the stock exchange to approve - and a decision by the Securities and Futures Commission not to oppose - SJM's initial public offering and listing prospectus.

The application characterises the sale, already fully subscribed by institutional and public shareholders, as an 'illegality' and 'contrary to the public interest and the long-standing policy of the Hong Kong government not to promote gambling'.

The 100-plus page application covers the 36-year history of the former monopoly casino operator in Macau and SJM's ultimate parent firm, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM).

In it, Ms Ho's lawyers, led by Albert Ho Chun-yan, who is not related, accuse the SFC of 'procedural impropriety' and 'illegality' in the approval process for not exercising its right to object to the listing.

The petition also charges the stock exchange and SFC with 'irrationality' in failing to give due consideration to ongoing legal proceedings involving SJM and STDM, as well as knowingly signing off on a prospectus that Ms Ho's lawyers allege 'contains untrue and/or misleading statements, and/or material non-disclosure'.

An SFC spokesman said: 'We are confident that we have followed the process correctly and we look forward to presenting our case in the court.'

The application for judicial review is expected to go before the court today in an expedited hearing. Martin Lee Chu-ming would act as counsel, a spokeswoman for Ms Ho said last night.

The new petition is the latest volley in an epic courtroom battle between Ms Ho and her brother that now totals 35 legal actions pending in Macau and five in Hong Kong.

Ms Ho worked for STDM for 25 years until 2002 and retains a stake of 7.34 per cent (according to SJM) or slightly more than 8 per cent (according to Ms Ho) in the private Macau company.

SJM had delayed two previous attempts at a Hong Kong share sale in 2006 and earlier this year, due in part to opposition by Ms Ho.

If the court decides to undertake a judicial review based on Ms Ho's petition, it could issue an injunction that may affect SJM's trading debut.

In 2004, a public housing tenant made a last-minute application for a judicial review against the Hong Kong Housing Authority's listing of the Link Real Estate Investment Trust. That action did not prevent the initial public offering but it forced the government to shelve it and relaunch the sale 11 months later.

'If Ms Ho loses in the Court of First Instance, of course she will appeal,' the spokeswoman said.

An SJM spokesman yesterday declined to comment on the judicial review application.