The core feuding members of late Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung's family have reached an "agreement in principle" towards resolving their ongoing court battle over his HK$11.3 billion (S$1.95 billion) estate.
The High Court heard on Monday (Jan 24) that the parties would still need time to work out the details of an agreement and had asked for another day to settle their differences.
Mr Justice David Lok Kai-hong, who repeatedly urged all parties not to proceed with a trial, said the court had faced a dilemma, considering the need for active case management and the time required for talks.
"In my 26 years of sitting on the bench, I have not come across a case where it takes so long for a settlement to be reached," he said.
But the judge eventually agreed to a fourth adjournment, saying that he would allow it because of the positive progress achieved by the parties.
Fok married three times and had 13 children before he died of cancer at the age of 83 in 2006.
Despite reaching a settlement over his estate in 2012, a rift emerged among the family, with the children from Fok's first marriage - Benjamin Fok Chun-yue, Nora Fok Lai-lor and Patricia Fok Lai-ping - accusing brothers Ian Fok Chun-wan and former legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting of keeping details of the estate hidden.
The latest dispute focused on a single share from 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.
Ian denied any breach of his fiduciary duties during the High Court sessions, while the other family members from his father's second and third marriages said they had hoped to preserve the previous settlement agreement.
At the latest hearing, Nora's counsel, Benjamin Yu SC, thanked the court for giving them time to negotiate and said that "serious work" had been done over the weekend.
"An agreement in principle has been achieved among the first family, now subject to working out the details and agreement with all the parties," he said.
Yu also revealed there had been positive discussions with the foundation and the corporate defendants, which included Henry Fok Estates, as well as communication with other family members.
Counsel Samuel Wong, representing the second and third families, reiterated that his clients would not oppose a settlement among the children from Fok's first marriage.
But Wong also called for active case management, stressing that one of his clients, Fok's second wife, Fok Fung Kin-nei, was already 92 years old and did not want further delays or she might not be able to see the settlement.
The judge said he hoped the parties could finalise the agreement on Tuesday, but would remain "cautiously optimistic".
When asked if an overall settlement was possible, Benjamin Fok told reporters outside the court: "There's progress."
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.