How the elderly tycoon found out he was poor, and what he did about it

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 January, 2011, 12:00am

When the phone rang in the South China Morning Post's Causeway Bay newsroom on the morning of January 7, the caller made an offer that no journalist could refuse: would you like an exclusive interview with Stanley Ho Hung-sun?

That morning, the 89-year-old billionaire had opened this newspaper to read an article titled, 'The rich just got richer,' which listed Ho as Hong Kong's 13th wealthiest man as ranked by Forbes and estimated his fortune at US$3.1 billion. 'When he saw that he went ballistic,' said Gordon Oldham, a lawyer whom Ho would later instruct to defend his interests. 'That was the last straw.'

In fact, Ho had discovered only days earlier that he had effectively lost the bulk of his fortune.

The irony was inescapable.

'He was mad because he sees in the paper he's worth billions, and somebody tells him that actually, now, he is worth about six hundred dollars,' Oldham said.

On December 27, Ho's holding firm, Lanceford, issued a massive amount of new shares, diluting the casino magnate's stake in it to 0.02 per cent from 100 per cent. Lanceford held Ho's controlling 31.655 per cent stake in conglomerate Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau.

STDM's investments include a majority 55.7 per cent stake in Macau casino firm SJM Holdings, which last year booked more gambling revenue than the entire Las Vegas strip.

As a result of the December 27 share issuance, Ho's third wife, Ina Chan Un Chan, became Lanceford's single largest shareholder with 50.5 per cent. The remaining 49.5 per cent went to Ranillo Investments, which is owned 20 per cent each by the five children of second wife Lucina Laam King-ying: Pansy, Daisy, Maisy, Lawrence and Josie.

Privately held and locally incorporated, Lanceford noted the change in a filing to Hong Kong's Companies Registry dated December 30.

On January 5, Ho wrote to Daisy saying the deal had been done 'without my consent and knowledge'.

Ho's letter included a 'command' to Daisy to report to his house with all of his STDM share certificates: '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,' the letter said.

By the morning of January 7, Ho was apparently motivated to talk to the press - thus the phone call to the Post, which came from Oldham.

It was early afternoon by the time the metal gate in the driveway of Ho's hilltop mansion at No 1 Repulse Bay Road rolled open to admit a car full of journalists from this newspaper.

The reporters were stopped by security and were informed by a family member that Ho was enjoying a post-lunch nap. More problematically, members of second wife Laam's family, the new owners of Lanceford, were on the way to pick up Ho for their allotted visit with him.

The reporters left without their interview. But a tentative meeting was set for January 8 over dinner at the Michelin-starred Robuchon in Central's Landmark building.

Meanwhile, on January 7, Daisy wrote a response to her father's letter. The circumstances it outlined were in sharp contrast to those described in Ho's initial correspondence. Daisy's letter recounted how she, sister Pansy and Ho's third wife, Chan, met Stanley Ho on the evening of January 5 and as a result 'any misunderstanding there might have been has been cleared up'.

At the bottom of Daisy's letter was an endorsement signed by Stanley Ho which said: 'This is to acknowledge that I re-affirm my instructions in relation to my gift of the STDM shares to Lucina and Ina.'

Ho's acknowledgement and endorsement of Daisy's letter appears to be dated January 8 - the proposed date of Ho's dinner with the Post reporters. But that meeting, too, was called off, no explanation given.

Last Friday, in a videotaped meeting at his residence on Repulse Bay Road, Ho instructed Oldham to act on his behalf and 'take vigorous action' against the family members involved in the change in control of Lanceford, according to Oldham.

Ho described the loss of control of the corporate empire he built over the previous five decades as 'robbery', according to Oldham, who cited the video taken on Friday.

At 9.41am on Monday, shares in SJM Holdings were suspended from trading pending an announcement of 'price sensitive information'.

One hour later, a reporter from this newspaper received a call from Oldham. A noon meeting was arranged at the offices of his firm, Oldham, Li and Nie, where he laid out the details of Ho's allegations. Later that day SJM announced Stanley Ho 'no longer has an attributable interest'.

On Tuesday, the Post quoted Oldham as saying: 'Stanley Ho is of the opinion that this was fraudulently misappropriated by members of his family and we have been instructed to vigorously pursue and protect his interests.'