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Who won estate of one of Asia's richest women?

By Miranda Leitsinger, CNN
  • Nina Wang dies in 2007 from cancer
  • Her alleged lover and feng shui master presents a 2006 will
  • Her family's foundation says that is a fake, should rely on 2002 one
  • Judge decides 2002 will valid, not 2006 one

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- A judge decided Tuesday that the estate of one of Asia's richest women will go to her family's foundation -- not her lover and feng shui adviser -- winding down a probate battle that has captivated the southern Chinese enclave.

Nina Wang, the heiress known for her iconic pigtail braids and nicknamed "Little Sweetie," died of cancer in 2007. After her death, a will was presented by Tony Chan, who claimed he had been her confidante off and on over 14 years. The will stipulated that her estate go to him.

Wang's family disputed the will, allegedly signed by her in 2006. One of their lawyers, Keith M. K. Ho, said a will signed by her in 2002 was the valid one. It left the estate to her family's Chinachem Charitable Foundation. Ho said his client has given a 11-digit-figure -- or billions -- in Hong Kong dollars (US$1=HK$7.76)

"The court does not believe that their relationship was such that Nina was prepared to give him her entire estate irrespective of her other commitments and responsibilities," according to a summary of the judgment prepared by Hong Kong's judiciary.

"As far as her estate was concerned, she placed a higher regard on her charitable objectives than the first defendant (Chan)," the summary said.

The probate battle began in May 2009, and more than 25 witnesses -- including experts in feng shui and handwriting -- testified in the proceedings, which lasted more than 30 days, Ho said.

The story riveted Hong Kong. People crowded outside to land a spot in the courtroom and local media provided daily updates of the testimony, which included claims that Wang and Chan held feng shui rituals at her properties across the city, that the 2006 will was part of a feng shui ritual, details about how their romance blossomed and how they wanted to have a child together, that his wife was aware of the relationship and said Wang called her "Godmother," and that Wang gave Chan one of her trademark braids.

"Their connection was as old as the hills. It's a love story.
--Tony Chan's lawyer
  • Hong Kong
  • China

Their connection was "as old as the hills. It's a love story," Chan's lawyer, Jonathan Midgley, told last year. "It's a story of two people that met in 1992, and they were close, in slightly different forms over the 14 odd years until Nina Wang died."

But Ho, the foundation lawyer, said Wang's siblings did not know the pair was close and they thought she signed a document in 2006, but it was only for feng shui purposes.

"At that time she was seriously ill, she may have received feng shui advice to the fact that if you give your property away, by a will, then your life could be extended. The idea of a feng shui will is this," according to a feng shui expert for the foundation, Ho told CNN.

Midgley disputed that the 2006 document was part of a ritual.

"It's not my client who puts forward a soap opera. This is just a love story. Our story is easy enough, but the plaintiffs insist on all this black magic, and intrigue, and we say it's a diversion from the truth," he said. "She decided that he was her closest friend and, when she realized the end was in sight, she made provisions for him to be her successor."

Read more about the feng-shui factor in this case

The court disagreed, saying that, though the pair became intimate after September 1992, Chan "also acted as Nina's feng shui master at the same time and obtained financial benefit of the services he provided."

"Nina was aware all the time that the first defendant (Chan) would not be leaving his family and he would always be the husband of his wife and the father of his children," the summary judgment said, adding: "Giving him gifts or even large sums of money during Nina's lifetime when he made her happy is one thing. Making him sole heir in respect of her entire estate (carrying with it the responsibility of running the Chinachem business empire and implementing her objectives) is quite different. The court finds that the first defendant was not a suitable candidate for discharging such responsibilities."

Read more news from China

Midgley said his client was dissatisfied with the court's determination that the 2006 will was a forgery and he would appeal.

"The will in question was given to him by Nina ... and accordingly, it is inconceivable that will is a forgery," Midgley told reporters.

Ho said his clients were happy with the result and would carry out the wishes of Wang according to the 2002 will.

"They will use these assets for charitable purposes. That is the wishes of Nina Wang," he said.