Cheung Kong No 2 Victor Li Tzar-kuoi yesterday described business dealings with the former Land Development Corporation as a "painful experience".
The corporation, predecessor of the Urban Renewal Authority, was a "semi-governmental institution" which carried out its work in a "rather high-handed" fashion with staff who were "not the most courteous" people he had met, Li told the Court of First Instance. He was giving evidence in defence of a HK$23 million claim by the authority over their joint venture to build The Center in Central, initial dealings for which were with the corporation.
Li also gave a rare glimpse of his business practices. He said many assumed he had "absolute authority" to make business deals because he is the son of Hong Kong's richest man, Cheung Kong chairman Li Ka-shing. "It has been my habit in the past 25 or 30 years that when someone believes that I have the authority, I will ask him back whether he has the authority," Li said. And he might not be able to remember every detail of a business deal, Li said, but he usually had a good recollection of the "handshake moments".
At the centre of the court dispute is that the authority says Cheung Kong owes it the money for the resumption, or buying back, of the land on which The Center was built.
Cheung Kong contends that at a meeting on May 27, 2000, between Li, corporation chief executive Abraham Razack and chairman Lau Wah-sum it was released from any further payment after paying the balance of a guaranteed HK$1.9 billion profit.
Speaking of the meeting, Li said he remembered clearly that he confirmed with the two that they had authority to settle the matter before they struck the deal. He said that as Lau was a traditional Chinese man, they referred in the meeting to the Chinese saying "no delays, no owing and no more money dealings" in settling the matter.
Li said the handshake with Lau stuck in his memory. "For dealings that involve an international element, we usually shake hands briefly, like two times. But it was a traditional Chinese-style handshake with Lau. We shook hands many times," Li said.
When asked by the URA's lawyers why he could remember so clearly the details of a meeting which took place years ago, Li said: "You remember important things and it's easy to remember painful things." He added that pop star Leon Lai Ming cooked breakfast for him at a fundraising event before the meeting. "It's not every day case that Leon Lai cooks breakfast for you," he said.
Of his experience with the corporation, he said: "Life is short. Dealing with them just gave me too many grey hairs." He called it a "wise decision" to end all dealings with the corporation.
Leaving the courtroom, Li was escorted by seven bodyguards. In the lift, he said: "This is not a big matter. It's not about the amount of money. We're here for justice."