The stabbing of one of China’s richest men outside his home must have jolted not just the Mainland’s growing army of millionaires and billionaires, but also the rich here in Hong Kong. Local tycoons are no strangers to kidnapping and Li Ka-shing’s elder son Victor was famously retrieved back from involuntary captivity via a hefty ransom back in 1996. According to the New York Times, Cheung Tze-keung, the notorious thug who masterminded the kidnap, eventually walked away with $133 million.
Victor was returned shaken but unharmed. It clearly left a lasting impression. I remember being almost knocked sideways several years later one Saturday before Christmas as Victor’s armoured car screeched to a halt outside the Prince’s Building in Central. Body guards and Victor jumped out, shot into the Chanel shop, raced out again two minutes later, jumped back in the car and sped off. The engine stayed running throughout. One body guard was clutching a Chanel shopping bag, so Victor must have had to become a decisive shopper. His younger brother Richard was also kitted out with a pair of beefy heavies after Victor’s kidnap. When the SCMP was still housed in Dorset House, Taikoo Fong, it was not uncommon to get tangled up with Richard while he tried to negotiate his way through the heavy swing doors en route to his PCCW office. Body guards would try to hold his umbrella aloft and open the door for him as he ducked underneath, at the same time. Victor seemed to have a better handle on handling security efficiently than his brother.
Hong Kong tycoons’ security guards are rarely conspicuous, though many of them are seriously worried about being kidnapped. Most children of the very rich are escorted to and from school. Naming no names, but a super-rich person’s grandchildren even have their security guard sticking around the school all day while the kids are there. It’s easy to spot the heavies in the vicinity of local restaurants like the Luk Yu Tea House in Stanley Street, or the Fuk Lam Moon restaurant in Wan Chai at meal times. Other tycoons avoid security guards, thinking they look more conspicuous with a hovering heavy than going it solo and believe that by wearing jeans and a polo shirt they remain incognito. The sensible solution would seem to be a driver who doubles as a security guard.
Most kidnaps are unreported
There could be far more kidnaps in Hong Kong than we know about, since most are covered by news blackouts. Details of Victor Li’s abduction were only made public in 1998 after Cheung’s arrest and trial in Guangzhou. At the trial it also emerged that Big Spender, as he was known, had pocketed another $77 million by kidnapping Hong Kong tycoon Walter Kwok.
Neither Li nor Kwok had bodyguards with them when they were nabbed. Now, RMB115 billion (HK$145 billion) Hangzhou tycoon Zong Qinghou, China’s second-richest man and chairman of drinks company Wahaha, has been attacked outside his home by a man wielding a knife. The billionaire survived, but it must have woken China’s rich up with a start to their vulnerabilities in a place where everyone wants to get rich quick and life is cheap.
No doubt this brings a rash of business opportunities to the guys running private security companies. For the rest of us, there are advantages to not being rich.