Stanley Ho was taken to a hospital yesterday, as his lawyer showed video clips of the billionaire’s statements on the family dispute over control of his stake in Asia’s biggest casino company.
Ho, 89, was in the hospital for a “routine procedure,” said Gordon Oldham, the lawyer representing the Macau casino tycoon. He left for home late yesterday, Oldham said. The hospital visit came after the lawyer and Ho’s family members issued conflicting statements on whether the billionaire is still pursuing a lawsuit to regain control of his assets.
Claims and counter-claims over the transfer of Ho’s 31.7 percent stake in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau SA, which controls SJM Holdings Ltd., have driven down the shares of the Hong Kong-listed unit. Oldham yesterday showed reporters video clips with Ho, who ended a seven-month hospital stay less than a year ago, telling the lawyer to proceed with the lawsuit against some of the billionaire’s family members.
“It’s not unusual that big families have these sorts of incidents, but it’s a bit unusual to have lawyers involved, suing and then not suing,” said Huen Wong, president of the Hong Kong Law Society. “We have a team watching the developments and making decisions about whether we need to take any action.”
Bigger Than Vegas
SJM fell 3.7 percent to HK$12.68 at the 4 p.m. close of Hong Kong trading. The stock has dropped 12.5 percent since the stake transfer was announced Jan. 24, wiping $1.26 billion off SJM’s market value.
Janet Wong, a spokeswoman for Ho, hasn’t replied to an e-mail seeking comment or to calls made yesterday and today.
SJM, 56 percent owned by STDM, runs 20 of the 33 casinos in the former Portuguese colony, where gambling revenue is four times that of the Las Vegas Strip, according to government data. Its share price had almost tripled in value in 2010 as total gambling revenue for casinos in Macau, the only place in China where they’re legal, jumped 58 percent to 188.3 billion patacas ($23.5 billion) last year.
Ho, through Oldham, filed a writ on Jan. 26 accusing family members of illegally taking control of his assets, naming as defendants Chan Un-chan, whom Ho calls his third wife, and five of his children. The children, including Pansy and Lawrence, are by Lucina Laam King-ying, whom Ho calls his second wife.
Oldham, senior partner at Oldham Li & Nie, was hired to get the family members to the negotiating table, Ho said in the video clips.
A notice withdrawing the lawsuit was entered into the Hong Kong High Court registry on Jan. 29 bearing the signature of Stanley Ho. Oldham declined to comment on the authenticity of the court filings and didn’t rule out the initiation of additional proceedings.
SJM said Jan. 24 that Ho gave up almost his entire stake in Sociedade de Turismo to two companies owned by members of his family. Ho said the transfer was done without his consent, according to Oldham.
The board of directors of Lanceford, the vehicle that holds the STDM stake, had issued 9,998 new shares which were allotted to the five children and Chan, according a Dec. 27 filing to Hong Kong’s companies registry. That left Ho with 0.02 percent of the company he previously owned outright.
“When they said they are willing to surrender the shares and asked me not to sue them, I agreed,” Ho said in the video shown by Oldham. “I’ll give everyone a chance. We call it a misunderstanding, we can start afresh.”
As of Jan. 30, Ho hadn’t received the shares back from Pansy, according to the Oldham video clips. “She keeps saying all my shares are in the hands of the mother,” Ho said.
Pansy, in a statement issued through public relations company Brunswick Group, said she was “bewildered” by yesterday’s event, which “clearly does not reflect the instructions our father expressed to us previously on various occasions in the presence of medical practitioners and lawyers.”
She said it was “regrettable” the conflict has been played out in public.
Members of the Ho family met on Jan. 27 in Macau to discuss the dispute, Oldham’s law firm and Pansy said in separate e-mails. “The discussion did not lead to any conclusion nor consensus,” Pansy Ho said.
Ho, who has 16 surviving children, built his fortune in the five decades after Macau’s colonial government granted him and his partners a gambling monopoly in 1962. The monopoly wasn’t renewed after 2001 and Macau eventually allowed in rivals, including Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp.
SJM retains the biggest market share among the six companies running casinos in Macau and Ho was ranked Hong Kong’s 13th-richest man, with a net worth of $3.1 billion, by Forbes magazine last month.
Angela Ho said last week she and her siblings were excluded from the division of assets, in violation of Ho’s intention to divide his estate equally among his family.