SHKP tycoons the Kwok brothers have been torn apart over chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung's affair with a woman he brought into the family firm against his siblings' wishes.
Matriarch Kwong Siu-hing stepped in to protect the family's interests yesterday by removing Walter, who is also chief executive, from his positions, a source close to the family said.
His brothers, Thomas Kwok Ping- kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, were furious that their elder brother brought his long-time girlfriend - surnamed Tong - into the business.
Tong, who has been having an affair with married Walter for several years, has become increasingly influential in the company, the source said.
The family felt increasingly threatened by her presence, and the brothers' mother - the largest shareholder in the company - decided Walter had to go.
"The family felt threatened by the woman's influence on the company and the mother felt she had no other choice for the time being but to oust her eldest son to protect the family's interests," the source said.
Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) issued a statement late last night saying Walter will take a temporary leave of absence for personal reasons, with immediate effect.
During his leave of absence, he will relinquish all his duties and responsibilities, which will be assumed by his brothers. He will not undertake or be involved with the discharge of any executive duties, nor make any commitment on behalf of the company and any of its subsidiaries. The company will hold its board meeting on March 6 to announce its interim results.
A company spokesman said Walter is only taking temporary leave. As a listed company, Sun Hung Kai Properties is only showing its responsibility by making the announcement. It stressed that no further announcement will me made concerning the matter.
Walter later issued a personal statement through the company's PR department stating: "Thanks for your concern. In the coming two to three months, I will take a personal holiday to travel to the United States, Beijing and other big cities. During my leave of absence, my duties will be taken over by my two brothers. I will resume my duties after this journey.
"As a responsible CEO, I need to release the statement regarding the arrangement."
Walter, 58, inherited the business with his two brothers in 1990 following the death of their father, Kwok Tak Seng. The Kwok brothers are the third wealthiest people in Hong Kong and the Greater China region, after Li Ka-shing and Lee Shau-kee, with their wealth estimated to be US$15 billion (HK$117 billion) in Forbes latest annual list of billionaires.
On Friday, Walter was seen at a cocktail party hosted by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.