Page last updated at 23:18 GMT, Sunday, 10 May 2009 00:18 UK

Nina Wang battle of wills begins

By Vaudine England
BBC News, Hong Kong

Nina Wang and Tony Chan, lawyer handout picture 2007
The "intimacy" between Nina Wang and Tony Chan remains in soft focus

As it was in life, so it is in death.

The fortune of Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum - the Hong Kong billionaire who was Asia's richest woman - was the subject of an intensive legal dispute between herself and her father-in-law for almost 10 years.

After her death in 2007, that fortune is contested anew.

Her alleged secret lover, feng shui expert Tony Chan, and the Chinachem Charitable Foundation run by members of her family, are now contesting her will.

At stake is an estimated US$4.2bn (£2.8bn), though the exact assets and the value of the Chinachem corporation remain unclear.


The woman dubbed "Little Sweetie" was known for her pigtails and mini-skirts, tight-fisted habits, and a life marked by the 1990 kidnap and disappearance of her husband, Teddy Wang Teh-huei.

The two had met as childhood friends in Shanghai, where Teddy's father, Wang Din-shin, was building a chemicals and medicine importing business.

He set up a Hong Kong branch in 1947 and the families moved to the then British colony in the 1950s.

Nina caricature, Chinachem Building lobby, April 2007
Nina Wang's style and personality are marked by a statue at company HQ

Teddy was first kidnapped in 1983, and was released after his family paid US$11m. But many questions remain about his second kidnap in 1990.

Nina paid half the HK$60m (US$7.7m) ransom early on, before proof of life had been made and, unusually, the money and most of the kidnappers were found, but never the body of Teddy Wang.

Nina and Teddy shared "one love", later reports always emphasised, living in an unkempt Peak-top residence and working together on building the Chinachem business.

When he never came back she refused to accept his death and reportedly spoke of wanting to join him.

All the more shocking then, when Teddy's father later claimed his son's fortune as his own, alleging that Teddy had been upset at an alleged affair of Nina's.

It was the father who pressed for Teddy to be declared legally dead nine years later, prompting Nina to produce the hand-written will showing the fortune was hers. A court ruled it was a forgery in 2002 but a higher court reversed that ruling in 2005, and Nina Wang inherited the estate.


Just two years after she secured the fortune, in a legal battle that clocked up more than HK$560m in costs, Nina died.

Nina Wang funeral hearse, April 2007
When Nina died, Hong Kong's rich and famous flocked to the lavish funeral

Adding to the pathos was the fact that she had appeared uninterested in spending the money - she shopped for cheap brands and fast food, avoided the expensive salons or shows favoured by Hong Kong's flashier rich set, and was renowned for her frugality while running a huge property empire.

She worked to transform the Chinachem conglomerate into a US$3.5bn empire owning hundreds of office towers and companies around the world.

If the feng shui man, and property dealer, Tony Chan, is to be believed, she had also embarked on a secret affair with him.

If the brother and two sisters of Nina now running Chinachem and its charitable foundation are right, the story is a nonsense, and show a greedy younger man playing on the loneliness of a woman suffering a terminal illness.

And so the lawyers and courts are geared up for the next stage in a long-running saga.

Again the authenticity of a signature will be called into question. Again, Nina's sex life, if any, will be at issue in court.

"This fortune has dark karma," said Jonathan Midgley, the solicitor instructing Queen's Counsel Ian Mill, for Tony Chan.

He tells a mesmerising story of a fortune being won and lost, the kidnaps, the legal battles, and then "the irony of it all" - that Nina had only defeated all these odds to be told she had cancer.

Feng shui

"Who is Tony Chan? He was her long term friend," claims Mr Midgley. "They were close and intimate, and according to the final wishes in her 2006 will, he is the beneficiary.

Jonathan Midgley April 2007
This fortune has dark karma
Jonathan Midgley, solicitor

"So it's between her lover and her siblings which I think is sad," he says, with a characteristic sweep of his hair. Lawyers for the Chinachem foundation chose not to be quoted ahead of the trial.

Mr Midgley claims that Tony Chan Chun-chuen, 50, hails from family that had a keen interest in feng shui and Chinese philosophy, but does not claim to be a "master" of the art.

Though simplified as a form of fortune-telling, feng shui (meaning wind, water, in Chinese) is a system of laws believed to be based on energy flows, giving guidance on spatial arrangements from window placement to life direction.

"The public was startled to hear they were lovers, but why should it be surprising that a widow has a secret lover?" he asks.

Mr Chan is notoriously low profile, living in a sprawling mansion guarded by dogs, still with his wife whom Mr Midgley claims remains loyal. News reports have traced business ties between Mr Chan and senior political figures in Macau and on the Chinese mainland.


As for what is at stake - the fortune of a property empire in times of economic meltdown - "well, it could shrink a little but not so that anybody would notice," Mr Midgley laughs.

Nina Wang, Beijing 2001
Nina Wang was renowned for her short skirts and pigtails

Chinachem Charity Trust, the named executor and sole beneficiary of a will purportedly written by Nina Wang in 2002, is currently run by a triumvirate of Nina's brother Dr Kung Yan-sum and sisters Kung Yan-sum and Kung Chung-sum.

That was something that she allegedly planned for when, aged 69, she knew she had only a few months left to live, said family friend and casino magnate Stanley Ho, in media reports at the time.

She had apparently wanted to be cremated. "Since Teddy has not been found, if we cannot be buried together, I don't want to sleep down there all alone," recorded breathless media coverage of her passing.

However, her Catholic family chose burial instead.

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