Stanley Ho 'drops lawsuit against family'

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 31 2011 02:18 PM | Updated as of Jan 31 2011 10:18 PM

HONG KONG - Macau tycoon Stanley Ho has dropped legal action against his family after accusing them of trying to steal his vast casino empire, according to a statement issued by relatives early Monday.

The move, just days after the 89-year-old Ho filed the claim, is the latest U-turn in a series of bizarre events as the family wrangles over ownership of SJM Holdings, the centrepiece of Ho's $3.1 billion fortune.

The claim sought to prevent a share transfer that would effectively hand over the company to some of Ho's relatives. It also sought unspecified damages against four of the 11 defendants, including 3 of Ho's children -- 2 of whom, Pansy and Lawrence Ho, 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.

The statement early Monday, issued by a public relations company acting for some of Ho's relatives, said the lawsuit had now been dropped.

"Dr Stanley Ho has informed the defendants that he does not see any point in continuing the legal action in the High Court," it said.

"Accordingly, on 29 January 2011, and acting in person, Dr Ho discontinued the action against all 11 defendants."

A court spokeswoman could not be immediately reached to confirm the lawsuit had been quashed.

On Thursday, Gordon Oldham, a lawyer acting for Ho, insisted Ho was coerced into reconciling with family members during a surprise television performance, with the wheelchair-bound tycoon struggling to read a giant cue card.

Oldham, who could not be immediately reached Monday, said Ho was "pressurized" to appear on TV, filing the lawsuit hours later.

The feud has gained international media attention, much of it focused on the colorful tycoon and his complicated family tree, with 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.

Ho's daughter Pansy, born to his second wife, issued a statement early Monday, saying a family meeting last week "did not lead to any conclusion nor consensus."

She also disputed earlier comments from Oldham concerning a deal to split Ho's assets equally among his offspring.

"The assertion that I had committed in agreeing to a concept put forward in splitting the shareholding of Lanceford equally is therefore untrue," she said.

Her comments suggested the bitter feud may continue in the clan, which observers said has long been wracked by internal strife, with nasty sibling rivalries and a reputedly tight-fisted patriarch.

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 -- 4 times as much as the Las Vegas Strip.

Ho was hospitalized in mid-2009 for unspecified reasons and released months later, stoking questions about the future of his gambling empire.