Fugitive tycoon Joseph Lau turns up to work, quashing rumours of his death

Former Chinese Estates Holdings chairman appears at company headquarters with wife in Maybach limousine

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2017, 3:07am

Fugitive tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung appeared at his company’s headquarters with his wife, Chan Hoi-wan, at around lunchtime on Thursday, quashing speculation that the former Chinese Estates Holdings chairman had died.

Lau, 65, was seen arriving by Maybach limousine in Wan Chai, bodyguards in tow and escorted by Chan, now Hong Kong’s richest woman after he transferred HK$11.3 billion worth of assets to her.

Rumours of Lau’s demise began spreading after the property magnate on Wednesday transferred all his shares in the company to Chan and his son, Lau Ming-wai, citing his poor health.

The tycoon, who has been ­suffering from renal failure, heart disease and diabetes, underwent a kidney transplant in November. “Mr Lau returned to the office today,” a Chinese Estates spokeswoman said. Shares of Chinese Estates fell 0.17 per cent to close at HK$11.86 yesterday.

On Wednesday, he announced he had transferred his entire controlling stake in Chinese Estates, worth an estimated HK$16.99 billion, to his wife and son.

Some analysts questioned the motive behind the move.

All his moves, including the announcement of the new marriage and the latest share transfer, were too hasty

“All his moves, including the announcement of the new marriage and the latest share transfer, were too hasty,” one analyst said. “It’s too high profile ... The possibility can’t be ruled out that the rich man is playing financial tricks and trying to transfer the assets.”

The share transfer needed a waiver from local stock market operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, as listing rules ban directors from dealing in shares during the 60 days prior to the ­announcement of a company’s ­results – in this case, on March 9.

But the company in its stock exchange filing cited “Lau’s very unstable health” and a need to ­restructure “during his lifetime”.

Chan is an executive director and Lau Ming-wai is chairman of Chinese Estates.

Joseph Lau has long drawn media attention for his wealth and high-profile romantic relationships with multiple women.

He married Chan, a former ­celebrity journalist and his long-time partner, after announcing in November last year his break-up with then-girlfriend Dr Yvonne Lui Lai-kwan through several full-page newspaper statements.

The businessman became a fugitive from the law after he was convicted by a Macau court for his part in a bribes-for-land scandal involving a business partner and former Macau public works chief Ao Man-long.

Lau was sentenced to five years and three months in jail in absentia, but remains free in Hong Kong because of the lack of arendition agreement between the two cities.

Additional reporting by Laura He