Ho family jewels divided, but how long will the peace hold?
Details have emerged of this week's private settlement agreement that ended months of family feuding over control of casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun's business empire, though some observers wonder how long the truce will hold.
Ownership of Lanceford, the private holding company that controls Ho's indirect stake in Macau casino operator SJM Holdings, will remain largely unchanged, according to a person familiar with the terms of the settlement.
Ho's fourth wife, Angela Leong On-kei - a director of casino operator SJM Holdings and managing director of its Macau subsidiary, Sociedade de Jogos de Macau - will continue to be responsible for management of the gaming business for another six years, according to this person.
Ownership of Ho's mansion at 1 Repulse Bay Road was transferred to Angela Ho Chiu-yin, Ho's daughter with his first wife, the late Clementina De Mello Leitao, on March 8, according to Land Registry filings.
'All members of the Ho family have reached full and final agreement based on the principle of 'mutual understanding and mutual accommodation',' said a statement released late on Thursday and signed by Stanley Ho on behalf of 'all members of the Ho family'.
Lanceford was the focus of a contested December share transfer that handed control of the casino stake to Ho's third wife, Ina Chan Un Chan, and his second wife Lucina Laam King-ying's five children: Pansy Ho Chiu-king, Daisy Ho Chiu-fung, Maisy Ho Chiu-ha, Josie Ho Chiu-yee and Lawrence Ho Yau-lung.
The statement said Ho withdrew a second lawsuit on February 21, and the subsequent two weeks of negotiations resulted in an agreement on Tuesday. Ho's lawyer, Gordon Oldham, filed the lawsuit on February 16 naming Pansy Ho and Daisy Ho.
The statement said: 'A deed of settlement was executed on March 8 between all branches of the Ho family. We have agreed that we shall work together and continue to develop the gambling business in Macau founded by Dr Ho and operated by the Ho family to enable it to flourish.' It did not provide settlement details.
Heavyweight mediators, apparently acting on Beijing's behalf, appear to have helped bring the warring factions to the negotiating table. Former Macau chief executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah and former Hong Kong secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie helped to mediate, according to two sources familiar with their involvement and an Apple Daily report.
Shares in SJM rose as much as 8 per cent yesterday as investors cheered news of the settlement. SJM said in a stock exchange announcement that it 'welcomes the reported settlement of the dispute and is of the view that there will be no material change in management or strategic direction of the company'.
Angela Leong was in Beijing yesterday for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Asked whether the settlement meant she would be in charge of SJM, she laughed and said: 'Don't say who is in charge. We are a team and have collective leadership.'
She said SJM was the leader in Macau's gaming market and she was confident about the company's prospects. 'SJM's share price went up today. This is good for investors.'
SJM chief executive Ambrose So Shu-fai also said the Ho family matters would not affect operations.
But some observers continued to express doubts the truce would hold.
'I don't think it is final until there is an ultimate solution as to how things are being divided among the family and whether they have enough checks and balances among the family members,' an analyst said. 'It looks like the central government stepped in so everybody has to be good boys and girls for now, but who knows what will happen later on?'
The bitter dispute among Ho's four families and 16 surviving children became public following a December share transfer that saw the 89-year-old patriarch lose control of Lanceford, the company that held his controlling 31.6 per cent stake in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM). STDM has investments from Vietnam to Portugal, including a 56 per cent stake in casino operator SJM, which last year booked more gambling revenue than the entire Las Vegas strip.
This week's settlement suggests the family fighting - whether in the courtroom, board room or living room - has come to an end for now.
Additional reporting by Fanny W. Y. Fung