Macao casino magnate Stanley Ho (center), his third wife Chan Un-chan (right) and daughter Florinda speak to reporters in Chan's home in Hong Kong on Wednesday. [Photo / Reuters]
HONG KONG - Macao's gaming magnate Stanley Ho has filed a court claim against his children to recover his assets, according to a signed court document, in another twist in the feud over the ailing tycoon's empire.
Just a day earlier, Ho, chairman of Macao's biggest casino operator, SJM Holdings, had given a television interview, saying that he would not sue and wanted to resolve the matter privately with his family.
The latest move in the ongoing tussle for the 89-year-old tycoon's billions of dollars in assets suggests an escalation of tension in the scramble between factions of Ho's family, which includes four wives and at least 17 children.
Ho's lawyer, Gordon Oldham, said on Thursday he had filed a court claim on Ho's behalf against his children, including Pansy and Lawrence Ho, other relatives and companies.
A copy of the court claim filed at Hong Kong's High Court stated that Ho was suing his third wife and the five children of his second wife for issuing new shares without his consent in Lanceford, the main holding company for Ho's interest in SJM, effectively diluting his stake to nothing.
The writ, signed by Ho, sought a reversal of the transaction, declaring that the "shares were improperly and unlawfully allotted". He is also seeking an injunction to "restrain each of them" from making further share allotments or disposals.
"Regarding his statement on television, this was not his sentiment. He wants to continue. He is trying to get his wealth back," Oldham said.
"He had been pressured into making that statement."
Ho, who underwent brain surgery in 2009, appeared calm during his television interview on Wednesday, but his voice was weak and he spoke haltingly as he appealed for harmony within his warring family and for the matter to be resolved privately behind closed doors.
Macao is the only city in China that allows casinos. It raked in $23.5 billion in gaming revenue last year.
Ho enjoyed a monopoly on casinos in Macao from the 1960s to 2002, when licenses were granted to other companies, including some of the big players from Vegas. Analysts say the tussle over Ho's fortune may have been triggered by a move to pave the way for an orderly succession.
Last month, Ho's powerful fourth wife, Angela Leong, a former dance teacher who had five children with him, received a 7.03 percent stake from Ho in his flagship gambling company SJM. The move brought her shareholding up to 7.63 percent, making her the second largest single shareholder in the company.
Leong is the managing director of SJM, where she plays a key day-to-day role in Ho's business, though she did not benefit from the recent share transaction.
Some analysts say the gift of shares to Leong may have upset rival branches of the Ho clan under his second wife, Lucina Laam, and third wife, Ina Chan Un-chan, leading to the latest disputed asset transfer.
The restructuring in effect bolstered the third wife's stake in SJM to 8.9 percent, while the second wife's five children now have effective control of about 15 percent of SJM, including Shun Tak Holdings' interest.
Pansy Ho, a daughter by his second wife, is managing director and a major shareholder of Shun Tak, a leading conglomerate in Hong Kong with core businesses in transportation, property, hospitality and investment.
An extra ingredient of spice was added to the mix when Angela Ho, a daughter by his late first wife, Clementine Leitao, said she could not believe her father would leave nothing to her mother's family.
The continuing wrangle between the octogenarian and his family has amplified concern over succession plans and rattled investors.
Shares in SJM Holdings plunged as much as 8.8 percent at one point on Wednesday over fears the dispute may hurt the $10 billion company.
On Thursday, however, the stock opened higher with a solid management team expected to steer a steady course.