HK’s Richest 2019: Kwok Sons Take The Baton

15-Feb-2019 Intellasia | Forbes | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Following the death in October of billionaire property mogul Walter Kwok at age 68, his two sonsGeoffrey and Jonathaninherited their father’s fortune, including a stake in Sun Hung Kai Properties, that helped put them on this year’s list at No. 15. Their 89-year-old grandmother Kwong Siu-hing, Walter’s mother and widow of Sun Hung Kai’s founder Kwok Tak-seng, also joins the list for the first time at No. 5.

The brothers co-inherited a 7.3 percent stake in Sun Hung Kai, which is Hong Kong’s largest property firm by market capitalisation, at $49 billion. Elder brother Geoffrey, 33, has an additional 8.9 percent stake held in a family trust controlled by Kwong and is on the company’s board as nonexecutive director. Through the trust, Kwong controls 27 percent of Sun Hung Ka, according to the latest exchange filings in April 2018.

Geoffrey’s rise marks the end of decade long feud between his father and uncles, Thomas and Raymond, over Sun Hung Kai’s management and family assets. He first joined Sun Hung Kai in 2008 and was a director in a subsidiary managing the group’s hotels and serviced apartments in Hong Kong and mainland China. Three of Geoffrey’s cousins also serve on the board as executive directors.

Born in 1950, Walter was the eldest son of Sun Hung Kai’s founder and became chair and chief executive when his father died in 1990. His brothers Thomas and Raymond were appointed co-vice chairmen and together the three steered the company’s rapid growth and built some of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscrapers. While Walter was renowned for his aggressive marketing, he is best remembered for being kidnapped in 1997 by local gangster Cheung Tze-keung, who kept Walter in a crate for a week until a ransom of about $77 million was paid. After his release, Walter suffered from depression and his relationship with his brothers soured. Thomas and Raymond ousted Walter in 2008, claiming the trauma had made Walter erratic and unfit to lead the company. That year, Sun Hung Kai’s board replaced him as chair with his mother, appointing Thomas and Raymond as co-chief executives.

Walter retaliated with legal actions against Thomas and Raymond. The three eventually settled a defamation lawsuit Walter filed in 2008, but not before Hong Kong authorities in 2012 launched a graft investigation against Walter’s brothers. Thomas was later found guilty of bribing a government official and in 2014 was sentenced to five years in prison. He is still serving that sentence. Raymond was acquitted. In 2017, Walter mounted an unsuccessful suit over $5 billion in family assets. In May 2018, he dropped an appeal and sought instead to reconcile with his brothers, only to suffer a heart attack in August and die less than two months later. Aside from his sons, Walter is survived by his wife Wendy and daughter Lesley. Geoffrey and Jonathan also now helm Empire Group Holdings, a private property company their father started in 2014.


Category: Hong Kong

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