Lim Por-yen, chairman and founder of the Lai Sun Group, a hard-nosed garment and property tycoon who late in life was sullied by allegations of bribery in Taiwan, has died at the age of 93.
He passed away Friday morning from a lung infection after being admitted to hospital late last month, his family announced.
His death is not seen as affecting the group's business. In December he transferred his entire shareholding in Lai Sun Garment (International) to his wife, U Po-chu, and his son Peter Lam, who chairs the group's property arm, Lai Sun Development. Lim's private fortune was estimated at HK$7 billion.
He arrived in Hong Kong from his native Chaozhou, Guangdong province, in 1945. He started manufacturing garments in Sham Shui Po in the 1950s, and Lai Sun Garment was listed on the stock exchange in 1972. He successfully diversified into real estate in the 1980s, when the group's market capitalization rose to HK$60 billion.
Currently, though, all of the group's companies combined have a market capitalization of just HK$3 billion.
In 1991, Lim bought control of Asia Television (ATV), Hong Kong's perennial No2 terrestrial television broadcaster. After years of losses, he sold out in 2003, though he remained permanent honorary chairman of ATV.
The group he founded in 1947 has evolved into a diversified conglomerate whose principal activities include garment manufacturing, retailing and wholesaling; property development and investment; hotels; telecoms; and media and entertainment. Lai Sun Garment is the principal holding company; its units include Lai Sun Development, Lai Fung Holdings, eSun Holdings and Crocodile Garments. The group once seemed destined for the big league of property development in Hong Kong, but it stumbled over its almost HK$7 billion acquisition of the former Furama Hotel in Central in 1997.
After the Asian financial crisis halved local property values, Lai Sun struggled with debts of as much as HK$10 billion run up during a period of rapid expansion. The start of the property market recovery last year and asset disposals since the second half of 2003 helped the group back on the road to recovery. Last year, Lai Sun Development's debt restructuring was approved by creditors and shareholders.
Lim's later years were dogged by allegations he and an aide attempted to bribe a Taiwanese official with the equivalent of HK$60 million for confidential information on the rezoning of land the tycoon owned in Taipei.
In 1997, he was charged with bribery and though he spent no time in jail he had to remain on the island for 14 months while the legal process dragged on. Suddenly and without explanation, he was allowed to return to Hong Kong in 1999 after posting HK$10 million in bail. The official Lim was accused of bribing was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Lim maintained that he never knew the official and the money that changed hands was a commission payment.
Shares of Lai Sun Garment rose 6.41 percent Friday to close at HK$0.415 per share, while Lai Sun Development closed at HK$0.133, up 1.53 percent.