Details differ in two letters signed by Stanley Ho

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am

It is the tale of two letters, both with vastly different implications for the future ownership of billionaire Stanley Ho Hung-sun's sprawling empire.

But they share one thing in common: both letters bear the signature of Stanley Ho.

Complicating matters further, a statement issued late last night by Ho's third wife, Ina Chan Un Chan, called for an end to the familial discord, battles for control of Ho's corporate interests and a dismissal of the legal team appointed last week by Ho. That statement, too, was signed by Stanley Ho.

On January 5 this year, the 89-year-old casino magnate sent a letter to his daughter, Daisy Ho Chiu-fung. It was not a fatherly new year's greeting. Ho had just learned that Daisy and four of her siblings - Pansy, Maisy, Josie and Lawrence - together with third wife Chan had taken control of the business empire he had spent the past five decades building.

This was done 'without my consent and knowledge', Ho wrote to Daisy, according to a copy of the letter seen by the South China Morning Post. On the contrary, Ho said that he had intended for his main assets to be distributed equally among each of his four families, which include three surviving wives and 16 surviving children, according to the letter.

'I have tried to call you and contact you through SMS and your secretary in order to come personally to explain to me what is going on,' Stanley Ho wrote to Daisy. 'However, you have not responded so I have no other way but through this letter to command you to come to my house, Repulse Bay Road No1,' he wrote.

Ho's stern missive was fired off after he realised that two companies owned by Chan and the five children, who are the offspring of Ho's second wife, Lucina Laam King-ying, had issued a massive amount of new shares in Ho's private Lanceford Company Limited. Lanceford is the Hong Kong-incorporated holding firm for 'the bulk of his wealth', according to Ho's lawyer, Gordon Oldham, senior partner at Oldham, Li and Nie.

Oldham's firm has promised legal action over the Lanceford share transfer. But the statement read last night by third wife Chan on Ho's behalf said the firm would be dismissed.

It said the matter was a family affair, a misunderstanding that involved no cheating between family members. The matter did not require lawyers or courts to settle, the statement said. 'It's time to stop the controversy around the Ho family that has stormed the city recently,' it said.

Lanceford holds Ho's controlling 31.655 per cent stake in 50-year-old conglomerate Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM). STDM in turn owns 55.7 per cent of SJM, which indirectly operates 20 of Macau's 33 casinos.

STDM also owns stakes in: casinos in Portugal, Vietnam and North Korea, investments in five Macau hotels, tracts of real estate, department stores, Macau airport, a fleet of corporate jets, a cross-border helicopter service, shipping operations and the Macau horse and dog-racing tracks.

Founded in 1962 as Macau's gaming monopoly, STDM reigned for four decades as the former Portuguese colony's largest taxpayer and biggest private employer. Today, its SJM unit still has more than a 30 per cent share of Macau's casino market - now the world's largest. A fleet of STDM dredgers keep the city's silt-strewn harbour passable for ships.

The issue of new shares that shifted ultimate control of STDM took place on December 27. It reduced Stanley Ho's Lanceford stake from 100 per cent to 0.02 per cent, and boosted Chan and the five children's stake to 99.98 per cent from zero.

In his letter, Ho summoned Daisy - who is a director of Lanceford, SJM, STDM and Shun Tak Holdings - for a meeting and told her to bring the share certificates of STDM held by Lanceford.

'In order to transfer all my shares of STDM to equal amounts divided amongst: Clementina Ho's descendents, represented by my daughter Angela Ho; Lucina Laam; Ina Chan; Angela Leung on Kei.

This has always been my intention and wish ... Please do not forget I have talked with you so many times to resolve this amicably but if you will not comply with my wishes I must go through legal ways to solve this situation.'

The letter ends there, signed off with 'Yours Sincerely, Dr. Stanley Ho' and his signature.

But if this first letter suggests Ho wished for an equal distribution of his STDM stake among his four families - and it clearly does - the second letter says he wished for something altogether different.

Yesterday, the Post reported having seen a copy of Ho's January 5 letter to Daisy, and cited lawyer Oldham as saying there had been no reply to this letter.

That was not true, according to a statement released yesterday by public relations firm Brunswick Group on behalf of Lanceford and its new shareholders, Action Winner Holdings (wholly owned by third wife Chan) and Ranillo Investments (held 20 per cent each by second wife Laam's five children).

In fact, Daisy Ho responded to her father's letter on January 7, according to Brunswick, which issued a copy of her letter. 'Dear Dad,' it began:

Firstly, I want to apologise for not being available to see you on Wednesday [Jan 5] afternoon as I was very tied up. Ina, Pansy and myself did, however, meet with you on Wednesday evening and I am glad that any misunderstanding there might have been has been cleared up.

Following your distribution of SJM [Holdings] shares to Angela Leong, Ina, Mom, and all us children are grateful that you re-affirmed your instructions to gift the STDM shares to Mom and Ina, so as to preserve harmony within the family and aggregate control over STDM.

Further, the share allocation at Lanceford was done in accordance with your instructions. I am glad you once again acknowledged and re-affirmed your instructions and I trust there is no longer any confusion about this.

Finally, and just so you know, the STDM shares remain in Lanceford's possession ... Daisy's letter goes on to say she would be happy to set up a family meeting to discuss the future of the business. It closes with 'Yours, Daisy', and carries her signature.

Following this, there is an 'Endorsement on copy of letter' that states: 'This is to acknowledge that I re-affirm my instructions in relation to my gift of the STDM shares to Lucina and Ina.' The endorsement is signed ... by Dr Stanley Ho.

Based on this second letter, it would appear that Ho not only knew his stake in Lanceford - and thus in his lucrative business empire - was being reduced almost to zero: he actually issued instructions for the dilution to be carried out and reaffirmed them after the fact. And he would appear to have reaffirmed the transfer yet one more time, in a letter to casino company SJM.

On January 18, Lanceford sent a letter to SJM chief executive Ambrose So Shu-fai to inform SJM of the changes in its shareholding. This letter, a copy of which was also seen by the Post, was signed by both Daisy Ho and Stanley Ho.

'Stanley Ho is not saying that is not his signature,' Ho's lawyer Oldham said. 'Obviously he signed something, but it wasn't explained what the effect of that would be. Certainly he would never sign what this purports to be.'

Stanley Ho was spotted together with Daisy last night, leaving his second wife's house in Cooper Road in Jardine's Lookout. Further details were not available.

In their statement in response to yesterday's Post story, Action Winner and Ranillo - the companies controlled by Laam's five children and Chan - said: '[They] wish to inform the public that all of the material steps which led to the issuance of shares in Lanceford to Action Winner and Ranillo were approved or authorised in writing by Dr Stanley Ho.'

Ho's statement last night, issued by Chan, said: 'If there's someone proposing changes in the share distribution tomorrow, with documents carrying my signature, those words are definitely not true.'

Slice of the cake

SJM indirectly operates this many of Macau's 33 casinos: 20