Nina Wang foundation ‘lacks evidence’ in case against accountants, court says

Published (HKT): 2021.05.05 06:30

The charity foundation of late Hong Kong tycoon Nina Wang is suing an accounting firm for improperly managing her estate and overcharging fees, in claims that a High Court judge says “lack evidence.”

The Chinachem Charitable Foundation argues that executives from PricewaterhouseCoopers have been paid exorbitant sums as administrators of Wang’s estate. Three PwC partners are unable to provide detailed work records, and charge fees of more than HK$60 million (US$7.7 million) a year, it says.

At a Tuesday hearing, Judge Godfrey Lam said the allegations were serious and might involve criminal offenses, but noted that the foundation gave no evidence to support its claims. He granted an application for some of the claims to be struck out.

Lam also criticized the foundation’s solicitors for taking their client’s “imaginary allegations” at face value. The lawyers’ behavior might have contravened professional standards, he said, adding that he would consider referring the case to the Law Society.

The foundation alleged that Howard Lau, a middleman, was instrumental in PwC winning the business of overseeing Wang’s estate. It claimed that Lau benefited from an under-the-table deal with Kung Yan-sum, Wang’s brother and the foundation’s former chairperson.

Lau signed a consultancy agreement with PwC in 2011, the foundation’s barrister Bernard Man said. The two sides met many times between 2012 and 2015 but PwC declined to disclose what was discussed, giving grounds for the foundation to be suspicious, Man said.

Barrister Paul Shieh, representing Lau and the three PwC partners, argued that the foundation’s accusations were “unreasonable and illogical.” PwC was a major international accounting firm and could not have acted as ignorantly as the foundation alleged.

The judge said PwC could have paid Lau out of its own pocket, and there was no evidence that the firm misappropriated the administration fees. His ruling would be handed down at a later date.

After Wang died in 2007, her estate has been the subject of multiple legal battles, with the charitable foundation winning control of the estate in 2010.

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