Henry Fok's family takes fortune fight back to court

Henry Fok's multibillion-dollar estate is back in public eye as son Benjamin wants brother and aunt removed as executors despite settlement

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 11:32am

The feuding family of late tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung has returned to court despite reaching a settlement last year, as one son accuses another of withholding information that may affect the distribution of billions of dollars' worth of assets.

Benjamin Fok Chun-yue asked the Court of First Instance yesterday to remove his elder brother, Ian Fok Chun-wan, and an aunt as co-executors of his father's multibillion-dollar estate - his second attempt at doing so.

Benjamin Fok's lawyer said his client changed his mind after investigating accountants found Ian Fok had withheld information that could affect Benjamin's part entitlement to a plot of land in Nansha, Guangzhou.

The land, if fully developed, would be worth "billions" of dollars, said barrister Winston Poon SC, for Benjamin Fok.

Henry Fok died aged 83 from cancer in 2006, the year Forbes magazine ranked him the world's 181st wealthiest person, worth an estimated US$3.7 billion. The estate comprises assets of HK$1.4 billion and shares in Henry Fok Estates, a holding company.

The senior Fok married three times and had 13 children, five of whom belonged to his first family: former legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, Ian, Benjamin and two daughters.

Earlier, Benjamin Fok wanted Ian Fok removed on the basis that he took assets from the estate without the knowledge of other executors. He also wanted his elderly aunt, Fok Mo-kan, dislodged for her age and lack of contribution to the estate's administration. Under a confidential pact sealed in August, all three remained co-executors.

Yesterday, Poon said accounting firm KPMG found Ian Fok had withheld the existence of a buyback option, the exercise of which would entitle members of the first family to a combined 25 per cent ownership of the land.

It is understood that if the option is not exercised, only Timothy and Ian will be the ultimate beneficiaries under the terms of the out-of-court settlement.

Poon said the option was granted in 1997 and expired in 2007, but Benjamin Fok was not aware of its existence until the investigation revealed it in January this year. He said Ian Fok failed to act in "utmost good faith" or to make "frank disclosure" of information. His client found Ian Fok "could not be trusted to be the executor" of the estate, he said.

Ian Fok's lawyers said they were not told of Benjamin Fok's application until very late. Patrick Fung SC called it an ambush akin to the Pearl Harbour incident, in reference to a surprise Japanese attack on the United States during the second world war.

Lawyers for Timothy Fok said he supported the application.

Benjamin Fok asked for a summary judgment without going through a full trial. Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor adjourned the case to October 28, when Ian Fok's lawyers would argue if the case could be reopened.