In a banquet celebrating the 84th birthday of matriarch Kwong Siu-hing last month, guests and senior company executives had a surprise - Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, Kwong's eldest son and the ousted chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, sat next to her on stage to toast guests.
"He was the first among his brothers to greet his mother and wish her happy birthday during the banquet. Now looking back … it could be a hint that the family feud was about to be over," said one person who attended the party.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post yesterday, Kwok refused to say how the feud had been settled. "I am happy to see this outcome, which reaches a consensus among all parties," he said.
The curtains were brought down on the bitter five-year battle yesterday when the Kwok family announced that they had forged "an amicable agreement regarding the treatment of the family's interests", which control the HK$256 billion SHKP empire, Hong Kong's second-biggest property developer by market capitalisation.
Kwong, who controls the conglomerate, revealed that "Walter Kwok and his family have received the same entitlement to shares in SHKP as his brothers and their families", a company statement said.
A highlight of the dispute came in October 2010 when Kwong removed Kwok as a beneficiary of the family trust. Since then, he has fought to regain control of the company and his one-third stake in the lucrative trust.
At that time, Kwok expressed anger about being forced out of the property developer.
In February 2008, he was demoted to non-executive director and replaced by Kwong as chairman, who then stepped down in late 2011 in favour of his brothers. He challenged the validity of Kwong's removal of him as a beneficiary of the family trust that controls the sprawling company.
While Kwok had said in previous interviews that his relationship with his brothers turned sour in 2008, the roots of the struggle might be traced to the day 15 years ago when he was kidnapped by the notorious gangster "Big Spender" Cheung Tze-keung.
He was released a week later after a HK$600 million ransom was paid to the gangster. After his captors released him, his emotional health deteriorated, but he found a ready and understanding listener in his close female friend, Ida Tong Kam-hing.
It has been suggested that Tong was key to Kwong's decision to sideline Kwok. The matriarch was reportedly worried that the interests of the family would be damaged by Tong's influence on him.
To settle the feud, his siblings - SHKP co-chairmen Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen - had offered him HK$20 billion, but the eldest Kwok scion did not accept it.
Yesterday's announcement made him hail the success of regaining his one-third stake in the family trust.
As part of the settlement, Walter Kwok has resigned from his position as a non-executive director of SHKP and its technology arm, SuneVision.
"I have left SHKP, but whether or not my children will leave the company will be up to them," he said.
Analysts said it would leave the two younger brothers to concentrate on the most high-profile corruption case in the city's history, which also involves former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan. All three have pleaded not guilty.