Another Chapter in a Uniquely Hong Kong Saga

The decision by a Hong Kong court to award the vast Chinachem property fortune to a charitable foundation rather than Tony Chan, the feng-shui advisor and lover of the late Nina Wang, apparently puts an end to a decade-long story that might even be too strange for the movies – unless Chan appeals.

Wang, a diminutive heiress who staged an epic legal battle to retain control of her husband's mystery-shrouded property empire, died in 2007. She and her husband, a Shanghainese-born businessman named Teddy, were fixtures in Hong Kong's gossipy newspaper pages, usually in syrupy pictures in which she appeared with bright red pigtails, freckles and miniskirts. Teddy was killed in 1990 under mysterious circumstances. The couple left no children, and she was estranged from her nonagenarian father-in-law, Wang Din-shin, who fought her tenaciously for control of the privately-held company.

It was believed at the time of Nina's death that she had left the Chinachem fortune, estimated at anywhere from US$3 billion to US$13 billion, to a charitable foundation controlled by her siblings. However, after her death from cancer at 69, Chan, now 49, appeared with a new will and a claim that the two had been lovers, and that she had left the fortune to him. To prove it, he produced Nina's famous pigtails, which he said she had cut off and given to him as a keepsake. Friends of Nina testified in court that Chan had estranged them from her and that she believed he could use his feng-shui powers to locate the drowned Teddy.

Lawyers for the charitable foundation charged the will was a forgery. Judge Johnson Lam in the Court of First Instance agreed Tuesday in a feverishly awaited written decision that followed months of legal maneuvering, saying Chan was not a credible witness and had lied to the court. Representatives for the foundation charged at one point that the will Chan had produced was actually a Feng-shui will, written to be burned. The Chinese often produce paper cars, houses, servants and facsimiles of other luxuries to be burned after death to accompany the deceased into the next life.

The birth of Chinachem was shrouded in mystery. It grew exponentially from a onetime middling Chinese pharmaceutical company to a giant property concern which passed from the control of Din-shin to Teddy, In 1983 he was kidnapped and Nina, whose full name was Nina Wang Kung Yu-Sum, paid a reputed HK$80 million ransom to get him back amid widespread rumors in Hong Kong that he had double-crossed the real, hidden owners of the company and cut them off from its income. When he was kidnapped a second time in 1990, the gangsters reportedly threw him into Hong Kong harbor from a speeding boat while being chased by police. His body was never recovered. After that, Nina was reputed to travel with as many as 50 bodyguards.

For seven years, Nina refused to declare Teddy dead while her father-in-law, Din-shin, sought to take control of Chinachem. Ultimately, when the legal statute ran its course, the elder Wang charged her in a probate action with forging the will, which purportedly had been written a month before Teddy went into the harbor. Signed "one life, one love," the will negated another that Teddy Wang had composed in 1968 bequeathing his holdings to his father. The elder Wang alleged that Teddy had caught Nina sleeping with a hired warehouseman and revoked the will giving the company to her.

An examination of Nina's will by law enforcement authorities concluded it had indeed been faked, and the Hong Kong Justice Department formally charged her with forgery. However, a judge in Hong Kong's Eastern Magistry ruled that the will was genuine, forcing the justice department to withdraw the charges in December 2005.

She promptly asked for costs from the old man, then 94, and demanded that he name the backers who had funded the marathon court case, which cost an estimated HK$560 million. He refused, saying he would go to jail rather than reveal his sources. But it was Nina who died in 2007, having given up her bright red pigtails and miniskirts.

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Nina, Teddy and Daddy Wang

Certainly the proceedings indicated a degree of hostility that appeared to reflect issues and persons beyond simply those of Nina and her estranged father-in-law. The questions have never been resolved although many believe the answers to Teddy's fatal trip into the murky waters of Hong Kong's harbor lie with them. Nina went to her grave in silence. The feng-shui master has never answered them. Now they may never be – unless there is yet another appeal. Don't count out the possibility.