Matriarch tells of pivotal role in empire

Top News | Jane Cheung 5 Jun 2018

The Great Eagle matriarch told the court how she objected to a proposal to sell the business to Singaporeans for 30 HK cents a share in the 1980s.

It was fortunate that Lo To Lee-kwan's late husband, Lo Ying-shek, listened to her objection and did not sell, otherwise the family would be left penniless and homeless, she said in Cantonese yesterday.

The 98-year-old - seeking to dismiss HSBC International Trustee as the trustee of her family trust - started her testimony before High Court Judge Wilson Chan Ka-shun with the story of property empire Great Eagle's development.

The Queen's Counsel for HSBC International Trustee, Paul Girolami, asked her if Great Eagle faced financial difficulties in the 1980s. She denied it at first, but later said all developers could hardly sell homes at that time.

Asked if she knew the firm's shares plunged 90 percent between 1982 and 1984, Lo said she did, but added: "Not to the level of the company closing down, just that the flats were not selling well."

Girolami asked Lo if her third son - Great Eagle chairman Lo Ka-shui - helped manage the firm during its low point in the 1980s. She recalled that Lo Ka-shui wrote letters to her husband and told them that he was unhappy in the United States because people looked down on him.

Lo Ying-shek asked his son to come back to Hong Kong and intern at his hotel. But Lo To Lee-kwan said Lo Ka-shui did not understand businesses and, as a result, became depressed and sick for a year.

Lo To Lee-kwan said her son was a cardiologist and did not understand how the property sector operated at first.

"When [Lo Ka-shui] returned, he liked to sell this and that," she said.

She recalled Lo Ka-shui chatting with her husband and proposing to sell the family business for 30 HK cents per share.

"I heard that. We established Great Eagle with so much effort," Lo To Lee-kwan said. She said she was angry at her son's proposal and objected to it.

She told the court that she had contributed to Great Eagle. It is pronounced as "Ying Kwan" in Cantonese, with the "Kwan" coming from her name.

She said if they had sold the firm at that time, they would have nothing left. "Are we going to sleep on the street? For real? Huh?" she said.

Lo To Lee-kwan told the court twice that Lo Ka-shui was clever and paid his own way through school. "But I don't know why he stands against his mother now. It is unexpected," she said.

Girolami asked her about her understanding of the family trust, to which she replied she had "a unique position" in it.

Girolami said in 1998, the Lo couple had resigned the positions of appointors and guardians of the trust and had the positions assumed by three of their children.

Lo To Lee-kwan said she had not heard about such an arrangement and added: "Such a thing didn't happen."

Girolami then showed a document to Lo To Lee-kwan, signed in 1998, showing the couple resigned as the appointors and guardians of the trust and appointing three children to the positions.

After reading the document, Lo To Lee-kwan questioned if it was her late husband's signature. "His signature doesn't look like this," she said.

She recognized her signature on the document but asked Girolami: "Why did this happen?" To which he replied: "We don't know either. I thought maybe you could help us understand this."

Lo To Lee-kwan said: "I don't know. Lo Ying-shek didn't tell me about this."

She asked if she could consult her youngest son, Lo Kai-shui.

But Judge Chan said Lo Kai-shui would testify later and she only needed to tell the court what she knew.

Chairman Lo Ka-shui attended the hearing. It was his first appearance after proceedings began on Tuesday last week.

Lo To Lee-kwan will continue to testify today.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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