Feuding family of late Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok makes 'progress' towards settlement

Benjamin Fok leaves the High Court on Thursday after a judge granted him and his relatives another 24 hours for talks aimed at reaching a settlement in their ongoing dispute.
PHOTO: Jasmine Siu

The late Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung's feuding family has made "some progress" towards settling an ongoing dispute over his HK$11.3 billion (S$1.95 billion) estate, a court has heard.

However, it remained unclear whether an overall settlement was possible, with parties requesting another 24 hours for talks in an application granted by Mr Justice David Lok Kai-hong on Thursday (Jan 20).

Should the talks fail, the trial will proceed on Friday with the testimony of the first witness, Benjamin Fok Chun-yue.

Asked about the chances of a settlement outside court on Thursday, Benjamin would only say: "There's progress."

The development came after the judge's repeated calls for parties to "consider other options" out of concern there would be "further damage to relations" once witnesses start testifying in court.

Lok had also warned that continuing the trial "may not be good for the image and reputation of the family as a whole", as the case was being closely watched.

The elder Fok was married three times and had 13 children before he died of cancer at the age of 83 in 2006.

All family members and a number of companies reached a settlement over his estate in 2012.

But a rift emerged among the children from Fok's first marriage, with Benjamin, Nora Fok Lai-lor and Patricia Fok Lai-ping accusing their brothers, Ian Fok Chun-wan and former legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, of keeping them in the dark.

At the heart of the latest dispute is a single share of their late father's dream project in Nansha, in Guangzhou, which was transferred from a subsidiary of Henry Fok Estates to the Fok Ying Tung Foundation in 1997, with a buy-back option that eventually expired in 2007, leaving the interest with the charity.

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The High Court heard five days of opening speeches from all parties, with Ian denying any breaches of his fiduciary duty, and the other family members from his late father's second and third marriages urging the court not to set aside their previous settlement agreement.

On Thursday, Nora's counsel, Benjamin Yu SC, said the parties had spent the past two days in talks.

"Some progress has been made," Yu said. "Some of the parties would wish the matter to be stood down for another day with a view to achieving something in principle by tomorrow morning."

But Yu also observed that "one mustn't underestimate the difficulties" of the task before them, adding: "We do not know what's going to happen."

"So overall settlement is unlikely?" the judge asked.

"I'm not saying that," Yu replied. "Progress has been made."

There were no objections to the adjournment, but counsel Samuel Wong, for the second and third families, complained that they had "not been contacted at all".

Meanwhile, Ian's counsel, Wong Yan-lung SC, agreed to postpone for another day, but also indicated that he was "all ready to proceed" with trial.

"A lot of people are watching," Lok said. "Let's see what will happen."

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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