Sun Hung Kai Properties

Kwok steps up comeback in family empire

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2012, 12:00am

Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, the ousted chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, yesterday attempted to distance himself from the corruption scandal engulfing the company as he stepped up his fight to regain some control over the family empire.

Kwok denied knowledge of the involvement of former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan in company business, which has become part of the corruption probe.

Hui is the highest-ranking ex-government official to be arrested in the Independent Commission Against Corruption's 38-year history.

'[Hui] was employed by my two brothers and he worked for my two brothers,' Kwok said. 'He did not have an office in Sun Hung Kai Centre...He was not an executive staff [of Sun Hung Kai Properties]. I really have no idea what he was doing.'

Kwok, who was ousted from the family trust that controls Sun Hung Kai Properties two years ago, has intensified his battle with his two younger brothers, Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, for the HK$245 billion empire.

Walter Kwok claims he has legal documents proving he still has a one-third stake in the company.

A court in Liechtenstein is expected to be the next forum for the legal battle. A document being kept in there shows the latest holding structure in the trust, which controls 42.42 per cent of the property empire, according to Kwok.

'I will seek legal advice about what is next if the document in Liechtenstein also confirms my shareholdings,' he said.

Liechtenstein-based lawyer Thomas Wilhelm and his firm Codex have filed an appeal against allowing him to view the document, he added.

'I am authorised to view the document after winning an arbitration in the International Chamber of Commerce in Switzerland, but they rejected it,' he said. The appeal hearing date is fixed for May 21 in Liechtenstein.

Kwok claims Wilhelm represents his mother Kwong Siu-hing and his two brothers. The family could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the family denied Wilhelm and his law firm represented the family trust or any member of the family.

According to sources close to Walter Kwok, the three brothers signed a 'legal document' well before October 4, 2010, when he was removed as a beneficiary of the family trust.

As part of that document, the three brothers agreed that each had a 15 per cent stake in the family trust with another 18 per cent to be granted in the trust at some time in the future. No time frame was mentioned.

The Kwok family source said the document Walter Kwok held was outdated.

Walter Kwok yesterday confirmed the three brothers had signed an extra legal document regarding the shareholding distribution in the family trust. But he declined to reveal any details.

The feud among the three brothers surfaced in February 2008, when Sun Hung Kai Properties announced that Walter Kwok would take a temporary leave of absence for personal reasons. In May of that year, Kwok - after 18 years in the top job - was demoted to non-executive director.

Family matriarch Kwong replaced him as the chairman, and removed him as a beneficiary of the family trust two years ago. The source close to the family said Kwong remained the decision maker for the trust.

The family feud emerged again when Thomas and Raymond Kwok and Rafael Hui were arrested on March 29 by the ICAC in a connection with a bribery investigation. None of those arrested have been charged.

Walter Kwok declined to comment on whether he, or his girlfriend Ida Tong, had spoken to the ICAC regarding the investigation.

Asked why he was not investigated by the ICAC, Walter said: 'Maybe they [the ICAC] know that I am not involved. As a matter of fact, I am not involved.'

Walter admitted he was chairman of the company when Hui was recruited as the consultant. But he said he had no knowledge of what Hui did for the company. He also denied reports that Hui was a consultant for his mother.

The Hui inquiry is believed to include allegations of debts linked to him of more than HK$100 million, including an unsecured loan of HK$50 million, and alleged ties between him and Thomas and Raymond Kwok stretching back years.

Land deals also form part of the investigation and could be related to the arrest and release on bail in March of Sun Hung Kai Properties executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, the company's land acquisition chief.

Analysts have speculated that Walter Kwok could regain control of the property empire if his two brothers are charged.

Asked whether he would return to the company if invited by the board of directors, he said: 'I will consider.'