Hong Kong property

Fugitive tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung sells Hong Kong office tower for record HK$12.5bn a day after buying US$48m diamond

Tycoon stands to get a hefty special dividend from record HK$12.5b deal for Wan Chai block

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 10:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 November, 2015, 2:37pm

Fugitive tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung is seen as the likely major beneficiary from his company's record-breaking HK$12.5 billion sale of a Wan Chai office tower, standing to reap a special dividend estimated in the billions of Hong Kong dollars.

The controlling shareholder of Hong Kong-listed developer Chinese Estates Holdings announced on Thursday the sale of the MassMutual Tower, a 26-storey Grade A office building at Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, which is the headquarters of Chinese Estates.

The sale, to mainland developer Evergrande Real Estate, was the most expensive office transaction in Hong Kong on record and came in the same week that Lau spent a total of HK$597 million on two rare diamonds at a Geneva auction.

READ MORE: Mystery diamond buyer revealed: Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau spends US$48m on ‘Blue Moon Diamond’ for seven-year-old daughter

The tower deal is the latest in a string of major asset sales by Chinese Estates since Lau was convicted of bribery in Macau in March last year.

Lau, who was handed a jail term of five years and three months by a Macau court, has not served time behind bars due to the lack of an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Macau.

"The pattern we have seen in previous months is Chinese Estates selling assets and paying high special dividends, which mostly went to Lau," a fund manger who requested anonymity said.

"I do not think Lau is cashing out his assets in Hong Kong, as he also bought back quality properties from the company."

Lau, who owns a 74.99 per cent stake or 1.43 billion shares in Chinese Estates, would primarily benefit if any special dividend was delivered. He has pocketed special dividends of about HK$14 billion from a series of asset sales in the past few months.

"It will not be the last sale, more are expected to come," said Thomas Lam, head of valuation and consultancy at Knight Frank.

Last year, Chinese Estates sold Lau the Silvercord commercial property at 30 Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, and the controversial La Scala luxury residential development in Macau for a total of HK$16.3 billion. Lau got HK$9.37 billion in special dividends from the sales.

In June, Chinese Estates announced a special dividend of HK$2.60 a share after selling commercial development The One in Tsim Sha Tsui to Lau. That deal saw him pocket HK$3.7 billion.

"There is no rule on how much in special dividends the company will pay. They can deliver 100 per cent if they want," said the fund manager.

An analyst said "on the basis of previous records, Lau is expected to get billions of dollars from the MassMutual sale".

This year, Chinese Estates has sold Evergrande a residential, commercial and hotel project in Chengdu for HK$6.5 billion and another property in Chongqing for HK$1.75 billion.

Chinese Estates was not available for comment yesterday.

"The anticipated special dividend will let Lau easily pay off the purchases of the two diamonds [he bought] this week," the analyst said.