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Asia's richest woman gets richer

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HONG KONG, Sept 16 (AFP) - Asia's richest woman on Friday won an eight-year legal battle with her father-in-law for control of her dead husband's multibillion-dollar real estate empire.

Nina Wang, a charismatic businesswoman known for her colourful wardrobe and unusual haircuts, won a unanimous ruling from Hong Kong's five-member Court of Final Appeal granting her the 3.5 billion dollar Chinachem conglomerate.

The judges overturned a lower court judgment that she had forged the will of her husband, Teddy Wang Teh-huei, shortly before he was kidnapped in 1990 and vanished without a trace.

They ruled there was no real cause for suspicion that the document was a fake, which her 94-year-old father-in-law Wang Din-shin had claimed throughout the eight-year legal saga.

The case featured all the stuff of TV melodrama, with kidnappings, allegations of infidelity and mystery attacks, that kept the story of the bitter family dispute bubbling on the front pages of Hong Kong's newspapers.

Teddy Wang was kidnapped in 1990 but although the family paid 60 million dollars in ransom, he was never seen again. His body was never found, and he was legally declared dead nine years later.

Nina Wang had long insisted her husband was still alive and would someday return to her.

The case turned on one key issue, whether the 1990 will naming her as the sole beneficiary was a forgery.

Two other wills were presented in court. The earliest, dated 1960, split the estate equally between Teddy's father and his wife.

A 1968 version, whose authenticity was challenged and which was allegedly made after Teddy discovered his wife was having an affair, gave the entire estate to his father.

In Friday's ruling, the appeal court dismissed the lower court's suspicions of Wang's behaviour and the finding that the 1990 will was forged.

One of the judges, Lord Scott of Foscote, said Wang's conduct since 1990 had been consistent with "a distraught lady whose husband had suffered an unknown fate."

"I would have been more condmenatory about a father-in-law," who remained outwardly friendly with Wang while filing aggressive legal proceedings accusing her of fraud, the judge said.

"We are obviously delighted with the verdict. Mrs Wang is happy. Her initial reaction was relief," Wang's lawyer Brian Gilchrist told reporters outside court.

Neither Wang, 68, nor her father-in-law were in court for the judgment.

Wang Din-shin's lawyer, Albert Tsang, said: "I'm deeply disappointed and very surprised. It's the end of the road as far as Hong Kong litigation is concerned."

In January this year, Wang was formally charged with forgery but released on bail of 55 million Hong Kong (7.1 million US) dollars, the largest bail in city history.

The Department of Justice said it would study judgment before deciding whether the criminal prosecution would proceed.

Once thought to be five times wealthier than Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Wang was dubbed "Little Sweetie" by local media for her trademark pigtails and is famous for her frugality. She spends just 3,000 Hong Kong dollars (400 US dollars) per month.

Forbes magazine this year estimated Nina Wang's personal fortune at 3.1 billion US dollars, 188th in their ranking of the world's richest people.

After taking control of Chinachem she transformed it into a 3.5 billion US dollar empire that owns more than 200 office towers and 400 companies around the world.

She reportedly receives regular death threats and has a team of 50 bodyguards watching over around the clock.

On the eve of the verdict Thursday night, her brother Kung Yan-sum -- who testified on her side -- was savagely beaten by four men with wooden bats in Hong Kong. His dog was also assaulted.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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