HONG KONG, Jan 3 – The family feud between Macau tycoon Stanley Ho and relatives he accused of trying to steal his empire took another bizarre turn Monday, with the two sides disputing whether a lawsuit had been dropped.
Several of Ho\’s children issued a statement Monday saying their father had cancelled a court case against them, a claim rejected by Ho\’s lawyer, who insisted the octogenarian tycoon was standing firm.
At a hastily arranged press briefing Monday, lawyer Gordon Oldham played video excerpts from recorded interviews with Ho last week.
"I want to make this thing very big… It\’s something like robbery," Ho said.
"What you have done has managed to scare them… they\’re willing to surrender," he added, referring to the lawsuit filed last week.
Oldham, who described Ho as "very clear, very articulate", called on the tycoon\’s family to negotiate and "not put this frail 89-year-old through this every day – it\’s just not right."
"The (legal) matter will proceed until we reach a satisfactory conclusion," Oldham added. "His demands have not changed since day one."
Ho was admitted to hospital Monday for a "routine procedure", Dow Jones Newswires reported. The tycoon was hospitalised in mid-2009 for unspecified reasons and released months later, stoking questions about the future of his gambling empire.
The claims and counterclaims are the latest in an unfolding saga that has seen Ho\’s family wrangle over ownership of SJM Holdings, the centrepiece of his $3.1 billion fortune.
Ho\’s lawsuit sought to prevent a share transfer that would effectively hand the company to some of his relatives, including two children, Pansy and Lawrence Ho, who run rival gambling concessions in Macau.
It alleged the group "improperly and/or illegally" moved to change the share structure at Lanceford, a holding company that ultimately controls Ho\’s flagship firm, whose interests include 17 Macau casinos and several hotels.
Hong Kong-listed SJM\’s shares have tumbled about nine percent since the now-disputed transfer was announced a week ago, with the stock closing at $13.06 ($1.67) on Monday.
The relatives\’ statement said Ho "discontinued" the lawsuit, and "informed the defendants that he does not see any point in continuing the legal action."
A court spokeswoman could not be reached Monday to confirm the claim.
Last week, Oldham insisted Ho was coerced into reconciling with family members during a surprise television performance, with the wheelchair-bound tycoon struggling to read from a giant cue card.
Ho was "pressurised" by relatives and filed the lawsuit just hours later, Oldham said.
The feud has captivated the international media, with the focus falling on the colourful tycoon\’s complicated family tree, which sprawls to 17 children born to four women whom he refers to as his wives.
Ho was only ever married to two of those women, according to Oldham and a report in the South China Morning Post.
The contentious share transfer appeared to give the bulk of Ho\’s fortune to his second and third families, at the expense of other relatives.
A family meeting last week "did not lead to any conclusion nor consensus", according to a statement Monday from Ho\’s daughter Pansy, who rejected an equal asset split among Ho\’s many offspring.
Her comments suggested the feud may continue in a clan observers said has long been wracked by internal strife and nasty sibling rivalries.
Ho, credited as the father of Macau\’s casino scene, secured a monopoly on the city\’s casinos from the 1960s until 2002, when licences were granted to rival firms including some major Las Vegas players.
Macau, the only city in China that allows casino gambling, has boomed with about $23.5 billion wagered at its tables last year — four times as much as the Las Vegas Strip.