Tycoon Li Ka-shing has revealed for the first time details of the kidnapping of his eldest son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, by crime king "Big Spender" Cheung Tze-keung 17 years ago.
Confirming rumours around at the time, Li told in a rare interview how the brazen gangster had showed up at his home after the kidnap on May 23, 1996, demanded HK$2 billion and left with HK$1 billion.
"There is only enough cash for HK$1 billion," Li recalled telling Cheung, who was later executed on the mainland. "If you need, I can go to the bank and withdraw the rest."
Speaking to Guangzhou-based Nanfang Media Group at his office in the Cheung Kong Center, Li said he told the gangster to turn over a new leaf.
"You have taken enough money to spend for the rest of your life. While there is still a chance, [you] better fly far and high, turn over a new leaf and be a good man," Li said he told Cheung. "If you mess up again, no one else can help you."
Li said the gangster asked, "How could you be so calm?"
"That's because it was my fault," Li told the weekly. "I'm a man of high-profile in Hong Kong but I have not been on my guard.
"Say if I go play a ball game, I usually drive to New Territories around 5am. I could have easily been rounded up on my way and yet I have not guarded myself.
"This is something I need to reflect on."
Cheung and his accomplices, armed with two AK-47s, seven pistols and four bulletproof vests, abducted Victor Li as he returned to his home in Deep Water Bay Road from his office in Central.
He was tied up and his mouth sealed with heavy-duty adhesive tape. The gang handcuffed him, blindfolded him with bandages and bound his legs with steel chains. He was said to have been kept for one night.
Li Ka-shing disclosed that Cheung telephoned him after collecting the cash and asked for advice on how to invest it.
"Why are you calling?" Li said he asked the gangster.
"Cheung Tze-keung said, 'Mr Li, I'm a heavy gambler and lost all my money. Can you show me other safe investments?'
"I could only teach you to be a good man but if you ask other things, I'm afraid I do not have an answer. You have only one path, fly far and high or else your ending will be a sad one," Li said, recalling his reply.
Li was criticised at the time for not filing a police report. In 1999, he rejected rumours that he had struck a deal with authorities that led to the execution of Cheung and four gang members in Panyu in 1998 for crimes including murder, kidnapping, robbery and smuggling explosives.
During the Nanfang interview Li also commented on his sons, Victor and Richard Li Tzar-kai.
"We have a lot in common," he said of Victor. "I was not a fan of social activities when I was young and Victor is the same. He is a good husband, father, takes his work seriously, is careful, prudent and shares good relationships with company staff.
"As to his strengths over me, it would be his excellent education background and English," Li said.
He said both were patriotic but had different personalities.
"I love them both," he said. "Richard is smart and flexible. He has a playful nature but is also serious about his work. His career has been improving which gives me peace of mind."
Li was ready to step down but "due to instability of world politics and economics, I have not set a concrete retirement time".
He was confident that Victor could pick up the baton any time.