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Hong Kong Billionaire Nina Wang May Lose It All

Court finds that a 1990 will of her husband is a forgery. He was abducted and later declared dead.

November 22, 2002|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

HONG KONG -- Local heiress Nina Wang, known as Asia's richest woman, was on the verge of losing her fortune Thursday after a judge ruled that a will leaving her most of her late husband's estate was a forgery.

Pending any appeal, the decision means that the estate of Hong Kong business tycoon Teddy Wang, estimated at well over $2 billion, passes to the man who challenged the will's validity, Wang's 90-year-old father-in-law. Wang was also ordered to pay 85% of his legal costs.

For a case that ran more than a year and consumed 171 court days, legal bills were estimated to run into millions of dollars.

The ruling against the eccentric 65-year-old widow, who likes to wear pigtails and miniskirts and prefers to be called "Little Sweetie," followed a lurid courtroom battle laced with tales of adultery, greed, deceit and bitter family feuding. In a culture where money is revered and the rich guard their privacy, even minor courtroom details frequently became the stuff of headlines.

Teddy Wang was kidnapped in 1990 and was never seen alive again.

The verdict left Nina Wang facing an uncertain future.

Speaking through the law firm that handled her case, Wang rejected the court's findings and indicated that the legal fight was far from over.

"We have spoken with our client, and there will be an appeal," said Jennifer Milford, director of marketing and business development at the firm of Johnson Stokes & Master. "The judgment is a surprise."

Lawyers for Wang's father-in-law, Wang Din-shin, failed to return telephone calls.

If an appeal succeeds, Nina Wang could conceivably regain control over the family fortune, which includes the large property development company Chinachem. Earlier this year, Forbes magazine put her net worth at $2.4 billion.

But Wang's troubles could also get much worse.

Circumstances surrounding Thursday's ruling leave open the possibility that she could face criminal charges in connection with the will that has been declared a forgery. That will, allegedly written just a month before Teddy Wang vanished in April 1990, gave the businessman's entire estate to his wife.

It also reversed a 1968 will that was written after he suspected her of having an affair with another man. That document disinherited Nina Wang.

Among the developments that placed Wang under suspicion was evidence presented in court that she liked to practice her husband's signature and was allegedly proud of how well she could imitate it. The 558-page judgment written by High Court Judge David Yam declared in part: "I have no doubt that the questioned signatures ... are forged signatures."

Wang was fond of describing her courtship with and marriage to Teddy in 1955 as a fairy-tale love affair that only grew stronger over the years, but many -- including her father-in-law -- questioned that version. After Teddy's disappearance, she ran the family business empire through a power of attorney and, by most accounts, did well.

In the mid-1990s, she unveiled ambitious plans to build the world's tallest building -- 108 stories -- in Hong Kong, but government authorities rejected the project as an aviation hazard.

Despite the passage of years, she refused to accept the possibility that her husband had been killed by his kidnappers. After a prolonged effort, however, her father-in-law managed to get Teddy Wang declared legally dead in 1999. That step seemed destined to give Wang Din-shin control over the family fortune -- until Little Sweetie produced the will declared a forgery Thursday.

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