Boardroom battles, bribery, and kidnapping: Meet Hong Kong's richest family, who has lost over $2 billion since the protests began

Boardroom battles, bribery, and kidnapping: Meet Hong Kong's richest family, who has lost over $2 billion since the protests began

Raymond Kwok Walter Kwok Thomas Kwok

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Brothers Raymond Kwok (L), Walter Kwok (C), and Thomas Kwok (R) at the 2004 Sun Hung Kai Properties annual meeting.

  • The Kwoks are Asia's second-richest family and the richest family in Hong Kong, with a collective net worth of $38 billion, according to Bloomberg.
  • Billionaire brothers Walter, Raymond, and Thomas Kwok inherited real estate developer Sun Hung Kai Properties from their father, Kwok Tak-Seng, in 1990, Bloomberg reported.
  • The family is unusually exposed to the sectors hit hardest by the economic unrest from the city's ongoing protests, Business Insider previously reported. Two members of the family have lost $1 billion each since the protests started.
  • Eldest brother Walter was kidnapped and ousted from the family business before his death in 2018, according to Forbes.
  • Younger brothers Raymond and Thomas were arrested on charges of bribery in 2012, according to Bloomberg. Raymond was acquitted while Thomas served five years in prison.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Hong Kong's richest family is no stranger to crisis.In 1997, eldest brother Walter Kwok was kidnapped by a gang and held for ransom, according to Forbes. A family feud shuffled the leadership structure of the family business, real-estate developer Sun Hung Kai Properties. And younger brothers Raymond and Thomas Kwok were arrested on charges of bribing a government official in 2012, according to Bloomberg.
Advertisement
Read more: 2 members of Hong Kong's richest family have lost $1 billion each since the protests started. Here's why the protests are costing the Kwoks more than the city's other billionaires.

The family now finds itself in a financial crisis: The anti-government protests that have disrupted life in Hong Kong for 12 weeks have wiped billions of dollars off their $38 billion fortune, Business Insider previously reported. Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced August 4 that the government would withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the protests.

Sun Hung Kai did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on the Kwok family's personal history and involvement with the company.
TOP VIDEOS FOR YOU
Advertisement

Keep reading to learn more about the Kwok family.

{{}}

Kwok Tak-seng was a cofounder of Sun Hung Kai and patriarch of the Kwok family.

Kwok Tak-seng was a cofounder of Sun Hung Kai and patriarch of the Kwok family.

Tak-seng grew up in Guangdong, China, where he worked as a grocery wholesaler, according to Bloomberg. After World War II, he moved to Hong Kong.

Tak-seng and cofounders Fung King Hey and Lee Shau Kee founded Sun Hung Kai & Co. in 1969, according to Bloomberg.

In 1972, Sun Hung Kai went public, according to Bloomberg. Tak-seng served as the company's chairman, according to The New York Times.

Tak-seng built Sun Hung Kai into one of Hong Kong's largest property developers before he died of heart failure in 1990.

Tak-seng built Sun Hung Kai into one of Hong Kong's largest property developers before he died of heart failure in 1990.

Tak-seng, 79, had a net worth of over $1 billion and was one of the richest people in the city at the time of his death, The New York Times reported.

Tak-seng's obituary in The Times refers to him as a "widely admired business executive."

Tak-seng's three sons — Walter, Raymond, and Thomas — gained control of 26% of the company after Tak-seng's death through a family trust, according to Bloomberg. Tak-seng's oldest son, Walter, took over as CEO. Tak-Seng also had three daughters, but the company does not list them as shareholders in regulatory filings, according to Bloomberg.

Sun Hung Kai went on to build some of Hong Kong's most recognizable buildings, including the 118-story International Commerce Centre in 2010, the city's tallest, according to Bloomberg.

Advertisement

In 1997, Walter was kidnapped by a local gang leader who went by the name "Big Spender."

In 1997, Walter was kidnapped by a local gang leader who went by the name "Big Spender."

To secure Walter's release, the Kwoks paid Big Spender nearly $80 million, according to The New York Times.

Big Spender, who was also responsible for the kidnapping of the son of billionaire Li Ka-shing, was later arrested and executed by the Chinese government, according to Forbes.

The trauma of the kidnapping caused Walter to begin to suffer from depression, Forbes reported.

Read more: The investment firm founded by Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing, just bought the biggest pub and brewery chain group in the UK — here's his incredible rags-to-riches life story

In 2008, Thomas and Raymond ousted Walter from Sun Hung Kai & Co after 18 years as its chairman.

In 2008, Thomas and Raymond ousted Walter from Sun Hung Kai & Co after 18 years as its chairman.

Walter's younger brothers, Raymond and Thomas, said that Walter had mental health issues that made him unfit to lead the family business, according to The Straits Times. Walter disagreed and sued them for libel, Bloomberg reported.

Raymond and Thomas won control of the company, and Walter was given the position of Non-Executive Director, according to Bloomberg.

The family's matriarch and Tak-seng's widow, Kwong Siu-hing, took the helm of Sun Hung Kai briefly after Walter was removed, according to Bloomberg. Thomas and Raymond took over as cochairmen of Sun Hung Kai in December 2011.

Advertisement

Walter died in 2018 after a stroke.

Walter died in 2018 after a stroke.

"We are saddened to announce the passing of Mr. Walter Kwok, who left this world peacefully on the morning of October 20th, with his loving family by his bedside," Walter's wife, Wendy Kwok, said in a statement announcing his death, according to Forbes. "We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to the supportive team of doctors and nurses, as well as to all our relatives, friends and business acquaintances for their loving care and concern."

Walter was 68 and had a net worth of $6.9 billion at the time of his death, according to Forbes. Walter left his fortune to his sons, Geoffrey and Jonathan, who instantly became billionaires upon his death, according to Bloomberg. His daughter, Lesley, works as a Director of Sun Hung Kai subsidiary Empire Group Holdings.

In the memorial book at Walter's funeral, Raymond wrote, "I remain grateful for knowing you as my brother, you will remain my brother," according to Forbes.

Thomas served five years in prison for bribery, according to Bloomberg.

Thomas served five years in prison for bribery, according to Bloomberg.

Thomas and Raymond were arrested on charges of bribery in 2012, according to Bloomberg. They were accused of offering HK$35 million in loans and payments to Rafael Hui, Hong Kong's Chief Secretary for Administration at the time, in exchange for Hui being "favourably disposed" to Sun Hung Kai, according to The Straits Times.

The Kwok brothers pleaded not guilty, and only Thomas Kwok was convicted, according to Bloomberg.

Advertisement

Raymond now serves as Sun Hung Kai's sole chairman.

Raymond now serves as Sun Hung Kai's sole chairman.

After his conviction, Thomas was removed from his position as co-chairman, but he still controls approximately 18% of Sun Hung Kai from his own inheritance and a 7% stake owned by his son, according to Bloomberg.

During the trial, Raymond said that the brothers only paid Hui because it would have made them look "downright mean" to ignore his requests for money, and called the episode "embarrassing," according to The South China Morning Post.

Raymond and Thomas each have a net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Bloomberg. Raymond alone has received $1.3 billion in dividends from his shares in Sun Hung Kai.

The Kwok brothers rarely sit for interviews with the press and few details about their personal lives and are known to the public.

The Kwok brothers rarely sit for interviews with the press and few details about their personal lives and are known to the public.

Despite their privacy, the Kwok brothers are open about their faith.

The Kwoks are devout Christians, according to Forbes: They funded the construction of a Bible-inspired theme park called Noah's Ark on Hong Kong's Ma Wan Island.

Thomas Kwok also opened a church on the 75th floor of Sun Hun Kai's skyscrapers, according to Bloomberg.

Advertisement

The brothers also have a close relationship with their mother, Kwong Siu-hing, according to The Straits Times.

The brothers also have a close relationship with their mother, Kwong Siu-hing, according to The Straits Times.

Kwong, 89, has a net worth of $13.1 billion, according to Forbes.

Although Raymond controls the company, Siu-hing has executive power over the family trust, according to Bloomberg.

The anti-government protests that have gripped Hong Kong for 12 weeks now threaten the family's fortune.

The anti-government protests that have gripped Hong Kong for 12 weeks now threaten the family's fortune.

Thousands took to the streets of Hong Kong beginning in July over an extradition bill with mainland China. The protestors have since expanded their focus to police actions and their democratic system, Business Insider previously reported. On August 4, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced that the government would withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the protests.

Sun Hung Hai shares have plunged 11% since mid-June, according to Bloomberg. That is two times as much as Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index. Raymond was worth $13.1 billion on July 21, according to Bloomberg's Billionaire Index. Now, his net worth has dropped to $11.1 billion. Thomas has seen his net worth drop over $1.5 billion since July 21, according to Bloomberg's Billionaire Index.

Read more: 2 members of Hong Kong's richest family have lost $1 billion each since the protests started. Here's why the protests are costing the Kwoks more than the city's other billionaires.

Some of Sun Hung Kai's properties have also become sites of the protests, according to Bloomberg. When protests turned violent at New Town Plaza, an upscale shopping mall owned by Sun Hung Kai, a photo of a woman carrying a Saint Laurent bag stepping over a pool of blood as she fled was widely circulated online.

Advertisement