Obituaries

Walter Kwok, Hong Kong developer who survived kidnapping, dies at 68

FILE - In this March 7, 2007 file photo, Walter Kwok, center, chairman and chief executive, Raymond Kwok, left, and Thomas Kwok, right, both vice chairman and managing director, of Sun Hung Kai Properties attend a press conference to announce their company's interim results in Hong Kong. Walter Kwok was arrested Thursday, May 3, 2012 in a high profile anti-corruption probe that has already targeted his billionaire brothers and a top official. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Vincent Yu/Associated Press/File
Walter Kwok, center, chairman and chief executive, Raymond Kwok, left, and Thomas Kwok, right, both vice chairman and managing director, of Sun Hung Kai Properties attend a press conference in March 2007.

HONG KONG — Walter Kwok, a Hong Kong property tycoon who was kidnapped and held for ransom in 1997 and later ousted, in a dramatic family conflict, from the business his father founded, died Saturday in Hong Kong. He was 68.

His wife, Wendy Kwok, confirmed his death in a statement but did not specify the cause. He had been hospitalized since August after having a stroke.

Mr. Kwok was one of Hong Kong’s most prominent developers when he was targeted by a mainland gangster who had an audacious plan to kidnap the city’s richest businessmen and ransom them for tens of millions of dollars.

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The gangster, Cheung Tze-keung, known by the nickname Big Spender for his profligate ways in Macau casinos, kidnapped Mr. Kwok in September 1997, nearly three months after Hong Kong was returned to Chinese control.

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Mr. Kwok was held in a hut in a remote area of Hong Kong’s New Territories. The kidnappers beat him and locked him in a wooden cage after he initially refused to call his family. He was released a week later for a ransom of nearly $80 million.

Cheung, who had moved back and forth between Hong Kong and mainland China to avoid the police for years, was eventually captured in Shenzhen, a city just over the border with Hong Kong.

Cheung’s 1998 trial, in the mainland city of Guangzhou, was closely followed in Hong Kong. It revealed new details of the kidnappings, which had not been reported to the police. He was convicted and executed in December 1998.

Walter Kwok Ping-sheung was born in 1950, the eldest son of Kwok Tak-seng, who in 1963 founded Sun Hung Kai Properties. It became one of the city’s biggest development companies, building apartment complexes and developing what are now some of Hong Kong’s most famous commercial buildings.

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Walter Kwok studied at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. He and two younger brothers, Raymond and Thomas, took over Sun Hung Kai after their father’s death in 1990. Walter Kwok became chairman and chief executive.

In 2008, the Kwok family moved to oust him as head of the company in a bitter battle that thrust them into the headlines again. His brothers asserted in court filings that Mr. Kwok had bipolar affective disorder and argued that the condition should disqualify him from running the conglomerate. They also said that Mr. Kwok’s mistress had become inappropriately involved in company business.

Mr. Kwok responded that his brothers were upset with his efforts to improve the company’s management, including starting an examination of whether certain contractors were unduly favored.

The company’s board voted to remove him, and his mother took over as chairwoman. In 2014 the brothers reached a settlement to divide the family trust that controls Sun Hung Kai, which was valued at more than $33 billion.

Besides his wife and his two brothers, Mr. Kwok leaves three children.