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Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho claims family spat has been 'resolved'

HONG KONG -- Macau tycoon Stanley Ho said on television Wednesday that a spat with relatives whom he accused of stealing his US$3.1 billion empire was “resolved.”

The comments came hours after the 89-year-old Ho — who turned the former Portuguese colony into Asia's gambling capital — insisted some of his family had “robbed” his flagship SJM Holdings, and that he planned to sue.

Those comments were made through his lawyer.

“Throughout this saga, I was very unhappy and my family was too,” said the wheelchair-bound tycoon, reading from a giant cue card and surrounded by relatives.

“I love my family. Never have we sued each other ... The matter has been resolved.”

Drama over Ho's fortune deepened earlier Wednesday, when his lawyer denied claims that he had been sacked and vowed to sue relatives for allegedly stealing Ho's casino empire.

The 89-year-old Ho, who turned the former Portuguese colony of Macau into Asia's gambling capital, on Tuesday claimed that he had been “robbed” by members of his second and third families.

Ho, who has had at least 17 children with four wives, said some of the relatives had “fraudulently misappropriated” his flagship company, SJM Holdings, and threatened court action.

His relatives hit back, issuing several statements and letters claiming that the tycoon, who has suffered from ill health in recent years, had approved the distribution of his fortune and that his lawyer had been fired.

Ho's lawyer Gordon Oldham said he remained very much in the casino magnate's employ.

“I don't put much weight on press releases issued at 12 o'clock at night when Dr. Ho is fast asleep,” he told Cable News television Wednesday.

“It is business as usual — there will be court proceedings today,” Oldham added.

Hong Kong-listed SJM's shares took a beating, after falling Monday upon the release of a stock exchange statement saying Ho had agreed to divide his empire. They were down 5.2 percent by Wednesday's midday break at HK$13.08 (US$1.68).

After markets closed Tuesday, SJM posted a statement to Hong Kong's exchange saying the issue was “for the various members of Dr. Ho's families to resolve and does not directly affect the company.”

But some analysts expressed shock at the rapid turn of events.

“We don't think any of this is great news because it scares overseas investors,” Aaron Fischer, a gaming analyst at brokerage CLSA, told AFP.

But noting the presence of ageing tycoons atop many of Hong Kong's biggest companies, Fischer added that “Hong Kong investors are slightly more comfortable with these family sagas.”

Macau, which returned to Chinese rule in 1999, is the only city in China that allows casino gambling. It raked in US$23.5 billion in gaming revenues last year — four times as much as the Las Vegas Strip.

Ho enjoyed a monopoly on Macau casinos from the 1960s to 2002, when the territory's government granted licenses to other companies including some of the big Vegas players.

Ho, once a keen ballroom dancer known for his playboy lifestyle, was hospitalized in mid-2009 for unspecified reasons.

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