Asia's richest woman, her £8bn will, and a feng shui master who won't get a penny

Judge rules that 'Little Sweetie's' fortune should go to charity rather than former lover
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The Independent Online

It's a rattling court case that has electrified Hong Kong with its potent cocktail of sex, scandal, dollops of cash and a robust dash of feng shui thrown in for good measure. Indeed, in the former Crown colony it is so notorious that it has attracted a nickname: the "Battle of the Wills". And now it looks as if the saga of Nina Wang's estate might finally be at an end.

Ms Wang, who was at one stage Asia's richest woman, died of ovarian cancer in April 2007 at the age of 69. Her death prompted a bitter feud between Tony Chan, a barman-turned-feng shui master and property tycoon in his own right, and a charity run by Ms Wang's siblings, which has ambitions to be Hong Kong's answer to the Nobel Foundation.

In the latest dramatic development, the High Court in Hong Kong yesterday threw out Mr Chan's claim to Ms Wang's £8bn fortune. Mr Chan, who once advised one of his feng shui clients to burn money, said he was the lover of Ms Wang, an eccentric property tycoon known as "Little Sweetie" because of her fondness for the kind of short skirts and pigtails that characters wear in Japanese manga cartoons. He said she had left him her estate in a will drawn up in 2006; he also claimed to have inherited a pair of those famous pigtails.

The judge did, at least, accept that Chan and Wang had a genuine relationship. But Judge Johnson Lam said that the will was a fake and that a 2002 testament, giving all of Ms Wang's money to a charity run by her siblings, should be followed instead. That version, he said, "truly reflected the long-held intention on the part of Nina to leave her estate to charity".

Outside the courtroom, Ms Wang's family told reporters of their satisfaction. "We have won now," Ms Wang's brother Kung Yan-sum said. "There is justice in this world."

The court battle was frequently fierce. The Chinachem Charitable Foundation's lawyers accused Mr Chan of being a charlatan who played on Ms Wang's strong belief in feng shui. And her siblings said she was mentally incapacitated when Mr Chan started to put pressure on her.

If that was, indeed, the case, the distant observer could be forgiven for missing the difference. Ms Wang was always one of the more eccentric figures on the Hong Kong society circuit. Her traditional Chinese cheongsam dresses, with daring slits up the side, were a regular sight at balls and charity events in Hong Kong, but she mostly had her friends run them up so she could save money.

Despite her untold wealth, Shanghai-born Ms Wang was famous for her parsimonious lifestyle, spending just £200 on herself every month, and as often to be seen eating in McDonald's as in one of Hong Kong's top-notch eateries. She favoured the cheap seats at gala events and conferences.

Ms Wang was said to have used feng shui in a failed attempt to find her husband, Teddy, who disappeared after he was kidnapped leaving the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1990. It was the second time Teddy Wang had been abducted. Seven years earlier, he was recovered from inside a refrigerated lock-up after Nina paid a £5.5m ransom. But this time, Teddy was not seen again.

Mr Wang's father, Wang Din-shin, 96, campaigned hard to have his son declared dead. He launched a civil suit to claim his inheritance, and the internecine war over his financial legacy was the most sensational ever to rock the territory. The matter was complicated by the fact that there were two, possibly three, wills.

In one will, from 1968, Teddy left his father everything. His father said the will was written after he told his son of his wife's infidelity with a warehouse manager. Furious, Teddy tore up an earlier 1960 will that split his fortune between his wife and his father.

As if that was not complex enough, Nina had a different version, a will from 1990 after Teddy had fallen off a horse, just one month before he was kidnapped. He left everything to his wife, and wrote the phrase, in English, "One love, one life". A Hong Kong High Court judge ruled that this will was a fake, saying that part of it was "probably" written by Ms Wang. But in 2005, the city's Court of Final Appeal overturned the verdict and said Ms Wang should inherit all of the fortune.

Her work made it truly her fortune, too. As co-director of her husband's company, she made a series of canny deals that expanded Chinachem into Hong Kong's largest privately held property empire. She named a vast Hong Kong tower after herself, but she dedicated it to Teddy.

Ms Wang always maintained her husband was alive and would eventually return; but with yesterday's verdict, the late Ms Wang's story seems to be at an end. But for her lover, Mr Chan, there may be a few twists yet. "The truth will come out," he said yesterday. But if the Hong Kong police decide to charge him with forgery, and he is convicted, he could yet be locked up for 14 years.