Late Nina Wang gave millions to Democrats, records show

Late Chinachem boss gave HK$4.2m to party and HK$2m to the Foreign Ministry in late 1990s, court learns as will dispute continues

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 4:11am

Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum's Chinachem Charitable Foundation gave millions to the Democratic Party in 1997 and 1999, according to records its lawyer referred to in court yesterday.

Frank Hinks QC, a barrister for the foundation, was referring to the documents as he addressed the Court of First Instance. The foundation and the secretary for justice, which has a role as a protector of charities, disagree on how Wang's will should be read and have asked the court for a ruling.

The records of donations and grants show the foundation gave HK$2 million to the party on June 26, 1997, and HK$2.2 million on February 27, 1999.

When Wang fought her legal battle with father-in-law Wang Din-shin over the Chinachem fortune in 2002, the party's founding chairman, Martin Lee Chu-ming, led her legal team.

The records also showed that during the year of the handover, the foundation donated about HK$2 million to the mainland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Wang, thought to have been Asia's richest woman, died of cancer in April 2007, aged 69. Her estate is currently estimated to be worth HK$83 billion.

Under the Trustee Ordinance, the secretary has the power to act if there is a breach of a charitable trust or a need for better administration of it.

At question is whether Wang left her estate to the foundation as a gift free of obligations or on trust.

The secretary says it was left to the foundation to hold as trustee to carry out Wang's wishes, while the foundation says it was a gift.

Also yesterday, Hinks said a "flexible approach" should be taken towards Wang's will. "There are dangers to applying a rigid approach to a will of this character. There are very strong reasons for giving this will a flexible approach."

To demonstrate this point, Hinks pointed to the records of the foundation's giving, which he said fluctuated in size and included one-off causes.

"This is not something you can follow precisely. This simply isn't a direction that can be given a strictly binding meaning," he said.

In referring to the donation records, Hinks said Wang had often given to universities, including Harvard, the University of Hong Kong and the University of Science and Technology. The Community Chest was also a regular recipient.

In the 18 years since the foundation was created in 1988 until Wang's death, it gave a total of HK$198 million, averaging HK$11 million per year. Its single largest gift came in 1997, when it donated HK$56 million.

Lawyers for the secretary, foundation and administrators of Wang's estate concluded submissions yesterday. Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor adjourned the case for judgment.