February 2, 2010

Fake wills and signatures

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The big news in Hong Kong today was the verdict on the lawsuit between the Chinachem Charitable Foundation and Tony Chan the fengshui master.  At stake is a fortune reportedly worth between HKD 10-100 billion.

The case has dragged on for a long time, and Tony lost.  The judge declared that the will presented by Tony - supposedly signed by Nina out of love and unbeknownst to anyone else - was fake and the signature was forged.  He is appealing the verdict, of course.

For those of us who have been in Hong Kong a while, we remember an earlier lawsuit between the late Nina Wang and her father-in-law, over the same fortune (albeit somewhat smaller in size) that her late husband Teddy Wang and left her before he got kidnapped and was never seen again.  The debate was also over a will that was signed without the knowledge of other parties, and expert witnesses on signatures were produced by both sides to dispute the authenticity of the will.  That lawsuit had just ended in 2005, not long before Nina passed away.

A friend of mine remarked that he had hoped for Tony Chan to win.  He saw Nina Wang's fortune as ill-gotten gains that she took away from Teddy's family, and it was only right  that someone would take it from the Kungs (Nina's family).

As for me... I shake my head in disbelief at how much time and money would have been spent over the last 13 years on the two lawsuits - with the aim of grabbing the vast fortune.  I'm not saying that I would have given up on it had I been in the situation.  But just imagine the sums of money paid to the lawyers and the signature experts over the years... and what that money could do in terms of social programs for the city.  One source states that the foundation has donated over HKD 1.1 billion since its establishment in 1988.  What fraction of that sum has been squandered on the two lawsuits?  One estimate put the legal fees of the last lawsuit at HKD 500 million, and this time around the legal fees are estimated to be more than HKD 200 million for both sides.

Now that the foundation has won the lawsuit, will it really use the fortune to benefit society, as Nina's 2002 will stated?  Reportedly the foundation was in talks with Tony Chan to settle the lawsuit and split the vast fortune, before Hong Kong's Secretary of Justice - as one of the "guardians" of the foundation - discovered what was happening and denounced it.  The foundation's 5-member board includes 3 members of the Kung family and two long-term Chinachem employees.  Does anyone seriously think that they will put a significant amount of the funds for charitable use?  If your answer is yes... have I got a bridge to sell you...

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