A judge who did not understand Chinese was wrong to declare "King of Shoes" Patrick Tang Kim-kwan the owner of a flat he bought for a former mistress, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Karen Lee Chi-ting, 43, successfully argued that Tang's true intentions when he gave her the flat in Tai Kok Tsui had been "lost in translation" when the case came before the Court of First Instance.
Yesterday's ruling means Lee will keep the HK$2.1 million she made from selling the flat, bought for her by the billionaire head of the ATG Sourcing empire for HK$1.71 million in 2003.
The ruling centred on a phrase Tang said to Lee. He told her, in Chinese, he was giving her the flat "to hold on to". Anthony Houghton SC, who presided over the case as a deputy judge, considered the phrase equivocal and ruled that it was not clear Tang had intended the flat to be a gift.
But in a written judgment, Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said the term was generally understood to give the recipient "security" and "control".
"In my view, all in all, that the property was intended to be a gift and understood to be so is the more natural and proper inference to be drawn, once the meaning of the actual Chinese words used is fully appreciated," Cheung wrote. He added that 'to hold on to' was "as good a translation as any for the Chinese words used. But in this court, we have the advantage of working on the original Chinese words."
The flat at Metro Harbour View was sold in December 2005. The court ruling also allows Lee to keep the profits when she sells a flat at Royal Peninsula, Hung Hom. It ruled the flat had been bought in Lee's name under an agreement with Tang and Lee that it would be sold for a profit, which she would keep. The lower court had ordered that the profits be split between Tang, Lee and her brother.
She must, however, pay sale costs and give Tang the HK$2.68 million purchase price and income she has made from renting the flat out through the years.
Tang's counsel told the original 2012 trial that the tycoon had launched the court battle because he was "sad and embarrassed" by Lee's fling with former Mr Hong Kong Francois Huynh, which was exposed by a magazine in 2009. News of the secret romance ended Lee and Tang's seven-year relationship.
Houghton had ruled that Tang could not regain an office in Jordan or half-ownership of a house at Marina Cove, Sai Kung, which he had also given to Lee, dubbed Tang's "third wife" by the media. The two properties combined are now worth more than HK$20 million.