A power struggle at the top of Hong Kong's largest property firm intensified on Thursday after its chairman filed suit against his brothers to stop them firing him, according to the firm and court documents obtained by Reuters.
Sun Hung Kai Properties Chairman Walter Kwok, who took leave of absence on Feb 18, accused his younger brothers Thomas and Raymond of trying to have him dismissed without legal basis, and argued that any attempt by the defendants to remove him would constitute a breach of agreement.
Kwok added that he believed his brothers had proposed his dismissal because of heath concerns. He said those concerns were linked to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder -- a condition characterized by abrupt mood swings -- that he was contesting.
The company said it was seeking legal advice after Kwok filed his suit, which sought among other things to prevent a board meeting called to vote on his dismissal.
"Mr. Kwok filed his injunction just an hour before our meeting, and because the court did not have time to deliberate it, we were forced to suspend our meeting," Sun Hung Kai said in a statement on Thursday. "This does not indicate any judgment on the part of the court."
The suit marks the latest twist in a saga splashed across local newspapers since February, highlighting a widening rift within a firm touted in a Euromoney poll as Asia's best-managed company in 2007.
Sun Hung Kai in March posted a forecast-beating 17 percent jump in fiscal half-year earnings, buoyed by an upswing in Hong Kong home sales.
Analysts had said Kwok's leave of absence -- publicly explained by the company as time off for him to go on a series of business trips -- would not unduly affect the stock because of a well-established internal management structure.
But Sun Hung Kai shares have fallen 2.4 percent since Kwok's departure, versus a 7.4 percent gain on the main Hong Kong blue chip index.
In the suit, Kwok said his siblings had disagreed with his attempts to enhance internal transparency and accountability, especially as related to an investigation into the award of contracts to a select group of contractors.
He said that disagreement and others over various management initiatives prompted his brothers to attempt to remove him from his post.
Apart from Thomas and Raymond Kwok, who with Walter Kwok had long overseen Sun Hung Kai and are estimated to have a combined fortune of $24 billion, the suit also named more than a dozen others related to the firm.