Superman Li hits Kryptonite in hotel deal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 May, 2013, 3:06am

Many people think it took the Securities and Futures Commission to put the fear of God into Cheung Kong and force it to cancel its dodgy sales of hotel suites at Apex Horizon. I rather think we have the cargo dockers to thank.

Mind you, I am not belittling the commission, one of the few regulators in Hong Kong that is actually enforcing the rules. But visions of irate suite buyers in a repeat of the dockers camping outside the Cheung Kong Center in Central - or worse, at Li Ka-shing's mega house in Deep Water Bay - probably haunt his minions.

Cheung Kong's executive director and Li's right-hand man, Justin Chiu Kwok-hung, said the developer did nothing wrong. But I suppose he concluded it wasn't worth fighting over principles.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with selling hotel rooms as property. But it's so new in Hong Kong that many buyers are not sure what they are buying and some banks don't know if they should make a loan or a mortgage and how to value the property.

All told, the property giant will have to return HK$1.4 billion raised in February by selling 360 hotel units at the Kwai Chung project - and then some.

Besides returning the deposits, it will pay buyers 2 per cent per annum interest above the prime rate from the time of the payment to the end of this month. It will also have to give them HK$10,000 in legal and other expenses.

An SFC probe found that the sales amounted to a collective investment scheme (CIS) involving small investors.

Under the law, the developer must first seek SFC approval for promotional documents to make sure all the investment characteristics and risks are publicised before sales.

Because the hotel is not operated by the buyers themselves but the hotel operator, the scheme fits the definition of a CIS. The SFC was ready to take Cheung Kong to court but the latter has relented.

You would think Cheung Kong's highly paid lawyers and the too-clever-by-half Chiu would have covered all the angles. Well, there is always something to be overlooked.

Superman Li is sadly no longer the folk hero he once was and the once-feared tycoon can no longer take the indulgence of Hong Kong society for granted.