A feng shui adviser who had an affair with Asia's richest businesswoman before she died lost his bid for her multibillion-dollar estate Tuesday when a Hong Kong court deemed his will a forgery.
The legal battle over the late Nina Wang's fortune has fascinated Hong Kong with its often-bizarre stories of Chinese feng shui rituals and illicit love affairs, offering a rare glimpse into the private quarters of the ultra-rich in this money-obsessed city. Feng shui is the Chinese practice of arranging objects or choosing dates to improve one's fortunes.
Wang died of cancer in April 2007 at age 69. The lawsuit centered on two competing wills — the 2006 will held by feng shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen and 2002 will that left Wang's fortune to Chinachem Charitable Foundation Ltd., a charity set up by the late businesswoman and her husband.
High Court Judge Lam Man-hon on Tuesday ruled that Chan's will was forgery and upheld the 2006 will, according to a summary of his judgment issued by Hong Kong judicial officials.
While Lam accepted that Wang and Chan — more than 20 years her junior — had an intimate relationship, the affair was a secret Wang wanted to bury and when it came to her estate, "she placed a higher regard on her charitable objectives than the defendant," the summary said.
"The court does not believe that their relationship was such that Nina was prepared to give him her entire estate irrespective of her other commitments and responsibilities. Giving him gifts or even large sums of money during Nina's lifetime when he made her happy is one thing. Making him her sole heir in respect of her entire estate is quite different," according to the document.
'Highly skilled simulation'
The court ruled that the purported Wang signature on the 2006 will is a "highly skilled simulation."
One of Chan's lawyers, Jonathan Midgley, said his client was "extremely disappointed" and plans to appeal.
"We have won now. There is justice in this world," Wang's brother, Kung Yan-sum, told reporters Tuesday.
Hong Kong police didn't immediately return a reporter's call asking if it will investigate and prosecute Chan for forgery. Forgery carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison in Hong Kong.
Chan captivated public attention during the trial with his lawyer's claims that he and Wang were so intimate that she left him a pair of her pigtails. Chan himself testified they were having an affair when his wife was pregnant with their eldest son, telling the court that Wang called him her "husband."
Adding to the mystery surrounding Chan was his spotty resume that included bartender, waiter, machinery salesman, market researcher and computer parts exporting. He testified that when he became a feng shui consultant he once advised a client to burn real money.
Meanwhile, Chinachem's lawyers argued that Chan's 2006 will was part of a feng shui ritual to prolong Wang's life.
The ruling Tuesday marked another episode in the colorful saga of Wang, nicknamed in Hong Kong as "Little Sweetie" for her girlish outfits and hairdo.
Wang had to fight her own probate battle. She inherited developer Chinachem Group from her late husband, Teddy Wang, after an eight-year court case against her father-in-law. Teddy Wang was abducted in 1990, and despite the family paying $33 million in ransom, he was never released and his body never found.
In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked Nina Wang as the world's No. 204 richest person with a fortune of US$4.2 billion, but it is not clear how much her fortune is currently worth because Chinachem Group is a private company. Kung told reporters on Tuesday that Wang's estate is worth billions of U.S. dollars.