Called to account

Updated: 2011-10-12 07:16

(HK Edition)

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Perhaps the least welcome birthday present forthe doyenne ofHong Kong journalismas she approached her 100th birthday was a pamphlet written by veteran public relations company boss Ted Thomas titled: "Clare Hollingworth - The Facts."

The eight-page pamphlet is Thomas'sdefense ofhis failure to honor a 2007 High Court agreement relating to withdrawals he made from Hollingworth's bank account when she was hospitalized in 2003 after a fall.

Thomas was ordered by the High Court in 2006 to account for the money he had withdrawn from Hollingworth's account, totaling more than HK$1.5 million, but failed to do so, saying he had not kept receipts and that sketchy details he provided to the court were adequate.

A confidentialagreement was reached the following yearto settle the case but Hollingworth's great nephew Patrick Garrett said Thomas had "simply reneged on that agreement".

Thomas, 81, who heads Hong Kong-based PR company Corporate Communications, took control of Hollingworth's account at the Standard Chartered Bank in 2003 and obtained a cheque book and ATM card. Over the next two years, he withdrew a total of more than HK$2.2 million.

During one five-day period the following August, more than HK$1.4 million was withdrawn from Hollingworth's account by Thomas.

Among the fees claimed by Thomas, author of a book on how to deal with the media titled 'I Was Misquoted, was a HK$400 an hour "chatting fee" to speak to Hollingworth, who had no relatives in Hong Kong after Garrett was relocated to Moscow by his employer.

Thomas admits investing some of Hollingworth's savings in ventures she was not aware of, some of which he was personally involved with including an English tuition project in China and publishing and movie ventures.

Asked about the ventures, Thomas said: "The bank was paying her about 1 percent and we thought she could make 3 or 4 percent from these (ventures)."

In a speech to family and friends at the party for Hollingworth on Sunday, Garrett said: "Over eight years since he took control of Clare's money and four since the court settlement, Ted Thomas still owes Clare over HK$1.5 million.

"Four years ago, Clare was adamant that despite Thomas' delaying, she wanted the money back before she died. She said 'I don't want the money to buy my coffin - I want it to buy me air tickets or any nice champagne, or pay the rent'

"But Ted Thomas has still failed to pay up - there'd be no money for champagne, for travel, or even just to pay the rent."

The pamphlet written by Thomas makes it clear there is no prospect of settlement. In one section headed "The Threat of Jail for Clare", he appears to argue that he did not provide receipts because the helpers buying items for her were illegally employed.

"Should I have produced helpers' receipts which would have Clare and now Mr Garrett liable to draconian fines and possibly jail terms for breaking the law?" Thomas writes. "I think I did the right thing by not doing so."

In another section of the pamphlet, Thomas accuses Garrett of running up legal bills of more than HK$1.2 million by bringing the action against him on Hollingworth's behalf.

"Did Garrett pay HK$1.2 million from Clare's account?" Thomas asks. He admits he has not honoured the High Court agreement but writes: "I most certainly had no intention of paying his (Garrett's) lawyers' bills, the same lawyers who had shamelessly encouraged Mr Garrett to go on splurging Clare's money."

Thomas confirmed to the China Daily that he had not settled the case according to the High Court agreement, saying he hoped to have money to give to Hollingworth from future publications he was working on. However he insisted he wouldnot pay the legal fees that he said constituted the bulk of the agreement.

Eight years after Thomas first took control of her finances, the issue of Hollingworth'smissing savings remains unresolved - and the two parties seem so bitterly divided that the prospect of a settlement in the lifetime of either Hollingworth or Thomas seems remote.

China Daily

(HK Edition 10/12/2011 page4)