08 June 2008

They Want The Jewellery Wendy!

Eric Hotung


Family feud of legendary proportions

Sons Anthony, and Sean, were disinherited by their father, Eric
Hotung, because, as the elder Hotung said, he was `not dying fast enough' for them.

Estrangement from one's sons is never easy, especially when there is a distinguished family dynasty, never mind fabulous riches, at stake. Neither, one assumes, is the decision to disinherit them.

For Eric
Hotung, however, there has been no agonizing. His decision is final: two of his sons, he insists, will never benefit from his millions.

"They took a gamble,'' he says. "I would have left them a good inheritance, and they gambled on getting it sooner. What they were saying to me when they took me to court to get my fortune was, 'Father, you are not dying fast enough for us.'

Hotung's rotund face flushes a florid red. His right hand, tapping the arm of his chair in time with his words, reaches for another Kent cigarette. Behind a plume of smoke, his watery blue eyes narrow. "No, it doesn't sadden me to disinherit them,'' he says. "Why should it? They must now make their own way. They broke their mother's heart with their behavior, their grasping greed. Especially Sean, her favorite son. There will be no reconciliation. Last week Sean telephoned. We refused to take the call.'' Hotung shrugs, waving his hand dismissively. "I am through with them. I will leave my billions to charity.''

Tony Hotung

It sounds harsh. Yet Eric Hotung, 79, CBE, a Hong Kong resident who holds British nationality, is neither miserly nor vindictive. On the contrary. He may have the ear of presidents and princes, he may be the owner of the world's second most expensive house, he may think nothing of spending a quarter of a million dollars on a ring for his wife - but it is neither his wealth, estimated at HK$1 billion, nor the expensive tastes for which Hotung is famed. Instead, it is as a philanthropist and an international diplomat - and in those arenas, he has been unstintingly generous.

It is how he came to be dining with the Prince of Wales and Camilla earlier this month. "Wholesome, very charming,''
Hotung says. "He is a gentleman with much compassion.''

And years ago, when
Hotung dined with Bill Clinton, White House aides prepared notes on him for Clinton that read, ``Fabulously wealthy, but a bit off-the-wall.''

Hotung's honors fill a foolscap sheet. They range from his donation of US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) in aid to the victims of last year's tsunami, to his heroic efforts in 2000 when he bought a boat to sail 12,800 refugees from West Timor to safety in East Timor.

Similarly, he has been lavish with his family. His eight children were world travelers from birth, as the family flitted between its six homes across the globe. Yet where two of his sons, Sean and Anthony, are concerned, the family coffers are now firmly closed. ``They did not fight fair,''
Hotung says. ``They raked up things best kept private.''

The source of his sons' ire has been two secret trusts
Hotung set up in 1979, bequeathing them shares worth HK$100 million in two of his companies, to be paid out on his death. In 2002, Sean and Anthony went to court to find out more about the secret trusts from Winnie Ho, their father's cousin and a trustee.

The senior
Hotung's response was to revoke the trusts last year, but the sons successfully challenged that decision in Hong Kong's High Court.

``The trust was only two companies,''
Hotung says. ``A fraction of what they would have got eventually, had they not played dirty.''

It was during the court case that his sons revealed the existence of their illegitimate half-brother - a child born of an affair decades ago between the adolescent
Hotung and his glamorous older cousin, Winnie.

``It was right that the boy should be recognised,''
Hotung says. `` I think a man should step up to what he has done. He is another of my sons, a delight to me.

``But [Sean and Anthony] broke their mother's heart by telling of it in a court. Yes, it was good it came out. But not the manner in which it did.''

Hotung will speak no more of the rift, save to admit that it serves as a reminder that history has a habit of repeating itself. Father-and-son estrangements are all too familiar in his family - along with spectacular love affairs and bitter betrayals.

Wendy Puyat and sister.
blog comments powered by Disqus