Matriarch of Hong Kong property empire living in hotel praises son she’s feuding with as ‘good and smart’
Lo To Lee-kwan in battle for control of Great Eagle Holdings company she founded with her husband Lo Ying-shek in 1963
The matriarch of one of Hong Kong’s richest estate empires praised a son she is locked in a family feud with as being “good and smart” on Monday.
Lo To Lee-kwan, the 98-year-old widow of late tycoon Lo Ying-shek, also reminisced about her family’s road to success during her first day of testimony in High Court.
But it is the actions of her third son, Lo Ka-shui, that she said had taken her by surprise in a case that is essentially a battle for control of Great Eagle Holdings, which Lo founded with her husband in 1963.
“I did not know why he would do something against his mother,” she said. “Maybe it’s because of money.”
Lo has previously said she noticed her third son had been raising his shares in the company against those held by a family trust, run by HSBC International Trustee.
Fearing Lo Ka-shui would eventually take control of the company, she requested the HSBC International Trustee, which holds 33 per cent of shares against the son’s 27 per cent, to stock up, a request the trust manager had turned down.
The widow therefore took the bank arm to court, and has asked the High Court to remove it as the trustee.
Great Eagle Holdings co-founder tells Hong Kong court HSBC International Trustee favours her third son in family dispute
Testifying on Monday, the nonagenarian remained spirited and corrected the court interpreter when the interpreter referred to her residence as a home.
It was a hotel, she said, since she had moved out of her home after the family feud broke out.
Some of her children were also in court, occupying a different side of the court gallery.
While Lo Yuk-sui, the second son, and Lo Kai-shui, the sixth son, who are considered to be her allies, sat on one side, Ka-shui and Vincent Lo Hong-sui, the fourth son, sat on the other.
The widow recalled the days when she and her husband first came to Hong Kong in 1938. Then, the city was caught up in the second world war, during which time the family had fled on foot, to and fro between Hong Kong and Chaozhou.
After the family business was established in 1963, it went public about a decade later.
She recalled that between 1982 and 1984, it was a “worrying time” for the business because the properties they built were piling up, as people, hesitant about Hong Kong’s future, were not buying them.
In 1984, then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher visited Hong Kong for talks with Chinese leaders to discuss the city’s future.
“Of course, I knew that everything in Hong Kong was not good,” Lo said, recounting the financial difficulties that hit the industry at the time.
Counsel for the trust manager, Paul Girolami, QC, then suggested to her that the third son, Lo Ka Shui, returned from the United States and offered to help.
Hi mother said her third son was studying cardiology at the time.
“But, he said that he was unhappy when he was in US and he was looked down on by others,” she said.
He then returned to help with the family business, after having a chat with his father, and completed a hotel management course.
“He was a very good and smart student and … did not have to pay for school fees when he was studying,” she said.
But at the time, there was already a disagreement, she said. While Ka-shui tried to talk his father into selling some Great Eagle shares to a Singaporean family businessmen at a price of 30 cents per share, the mother opposed it.
Girolami suggested to her it was an emotional suggestion she made, and that she never knew whether that was a good price to sell.
The widow disagreed, and said the business was built up through a lot of hardship.
“How could it be sold?” she said.
The case continues before Mr Justice Wilson Chan Ka-shun on Tuesday.