Stanley Ho files new lawsuit to regain control of empire

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 12:00am

Casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun's on-off battle to regain control of his sprawling business empire is back on.

Lawyers for the 89-year-old billionaire yesterday launched a fresh lawsuit against Ho's daughters Pansy Ho Chiu-king and Daisy Ho Chiu-fung that seeks to undo the December share transfer that saw Ho lose control of Lanceford.

The company held his stake in a number of businesses including SJM Holdings, Macau's biggest casino operator by revenue.

The six-page High Court writ, filed yesterday afternoon by lawyer Gordon Oldham and signed by solicitors Oldham, Li and Nie - but not signed by Ho - also seeks an injunction against Pansy and Daisy to stop them 'exercising undue influence' to take control of or deal in shares of any more of the hundreds of companies in which their father has a stake.

'These two girls have gone beyond the limit,' Oldham yesterday quoted Ho as telling him during a videotaped meeting between the two on Monday, adding that Ho said he was 'annoyed and disappointed' with his daughters.

The new legal action accuses feuding family members of 'unlawful misrepresentation and undue influence' for breaching an oral agreement made on January 27 that called for Ho to drop an earlier lawsuit against them - which he did - in exchange for them returning his shares in Lanceford - which they did not.

Yesterday's writ names Lanceford as a defendant alongside the two British Virgin Islands firms that now control Lanceford: Action Winner (controlled by Ho's third wife, Ina Chan Un Chan) and Ranillo Investments (controlled by Pansy, Daisy, Maisy Ho Chiu-ha, Josie Ho Chiu-yee and Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, Ho's children with his second wife, Lucina Laam King-ying).

The latest twist appears to signal the failure of recent behind-the-scenes negotiations among family members attempting to broker a truce in the feud over control of Ho's fortune - estimated by Forbes magazine last month at US$3.1 billion.

Ho has fathered 17 children by four women he acknowledges as wives. His health declined after a fall at home in July 2009 that required surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain, but he remains the chairman of both SJM Holdings and Shun Tak Holdings.

Ho's first suit filed on January 26 by Oldham was broader, accusing second wife Laam, third wife Chan, each of the five children, Ho's long-time banker Patrick Huen Wing-ming and the three companies of 'improperly and/or illegally' seizing control of Lanceford.

That action was part of a bizarre sequence of events: hours before the initial suit was filed, Ho appeared on television with many of the soon-to-be defendants at his side and said he had no intention of suing them.

A series of backroom negotiations between warring family members then followed, including a secret meeting in Macau on January 27 between daughter Pansy, fourth wife Angela Leong On-kei and Angela Ho Chiu-yin, Ho's daughter with his first wife, the late Clementina De Mello Leitao.

Ho acted in person, without other legal representation, to discontinue the initial suit on January 29, three days after it was filed. In a video filmed the next day, January 30, and posted on YouTube by Oldham, the tycoon said he dropped the lawsuit in exchange for the return of his shares - a deal that failed to materialise.

'I feel a little bit disappointed, because when they said they are willing to surrender all the shares back to me, and asked me not to sue them, I agreed,' Ho tells Oldham in the clip. 'I said, 'All right, I will give everyone a chance. We'll call it a misunderstanding, so we can start afresh'.'

Oldham said yesterday after filing the new suit: 'No doubt we will see attempts to discontinue or otherwise interfere with the due legal process based on further promises or wishful thinking, but unless and until his shares are returned these or even further proceedings will continue.'

Ho's stake in Lanceford was diluted to 0.02 per cent from 100 per cent after a massive share issuance on December 27 that gave control of the firm to third wife Chan and the five children of second wife Laam.

Lanceford owns a controlling 31.655 per cent stake in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM). STDM in turn has investments across several continents, including a 55.7 per cent stake in SJM, which indirectly operates 20 of Macau's 33 casinos and last year booked more gambling revenue than the entire Las Vegas Strip.

A spokesman for Brunswick Group, the public relations firm for Lanceford's new shareholders - third wife Chan as well as Pansy, Daisy, Maisy, Josie and Lawrence - declined to comment last night.