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Tony Chan reaches end of the line

Joyce Man

With a Court of Final Appeal ruling going against him yesterday, self-styled fung shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen lost his battle for the HK$50 billion estate of the late Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum, once Hong Kong's richest woman.

He now faces the possibility of paying much of his opponent's HK$200 million legal bill on top of his own fees, as well as the prospect of criminal charges. The top court dismissed Chan's application for leave to appeal after a four-hour hearing, with reasons to be handed down later. The decision bought to a close Chan's four-year legal battle with the Chinachem Charitable Foundation over the estate.

Chan had claimed Wang left him the estate in a 2006 will - which he has since been charged with forging - while Chinachem claimed it was the beneficiary under a 2002 will.

Emerging victorious yesterday, Chinachem Group executive director Dr Kung Yan-sum, Wang's younger brother, for the first time gave an estimate of the estate's value, at HK$50 billion to HK$60 billion.

Kung welcomed the decision at a press conference with champagne flowing at Nina Tower in Tsuen Wan, flanked by his siblings and staff from the Chinachem Group.

Kung said the dictum, 'There is justice in heaven and on earth' - a term he used at various stages in the legal process - was the truth.

He said the foundation could now do its work, although it would take time for the assets to be transferred.

Chinachem solicitor Keith Ho estimated it could take two years to go through legal procedures to transfer the assets from Chinachem to an administrator yet to be appointed, then to the foundation. He estimated the legal costs for the case, including the trial and two appeals, at HK$200 million. Wang was Asia's richest woman and chairwoman of the Chinachem group before she died of cancer in 2007, aged 69.

Mounting his application, Chan said the amount involved in his claim surpassed HK$1 million, which allowed him to appeal by right.

Under Section 22 of the Court of Final Appeal Ordinance, a civil appeal can go before the top court where the matter in dispute amounts to HK$1 million or more.

But the Court of Appeal earlier said Chan's entitlement to the estate depended on resolution of another issue. Until that had been done, Chan could not be said to have a beneficial interest in the estate, and that the purported interest could not be said to be quantifiable. Chan also said he had not had access to some statements made to the police's commercial crime bureau, including several made by an attesting witness to a 2006 document .

But Mr Justice Roberto Ribeiro noted during yesterday's hearing that the witness had been cross-examined on what he had said at the trial.

Chan's public relations representative, Lamington Consultants, in a statement on his behalf, said he was 'very disappointed in the court's decision because although he had made every effort, he was unable to implement the wishes that Madam Kung Yu-sum had left before her death and he feels deeply sorry to Madam Kung'.

Chan, the statement said, had not mounted the lawsuit for Wang's money. 'Now that the court has decided Chinachem is to manage Madam Kung's estate, Chan will respect the court's decision and at the same time hopes the foundation will use Kung's estate well, and society will watch over the foundation's operation so that the charitable funds can be used to help people in need.'

Chan said in a television interview that he would discuss his next step with his lawyers. Asked about his financial problems, Chan said he had always said, 'Be frugal where possible, keep one's head down and take it one step at a time'.

Chan is due to appear in Eastern Court on November 25 for proceedings to bring his criminal case to the High Court. He was charged in late May with forgery and using a false instrument and released on HK$20 million bail and a HK$20 million surety provided by his brother.