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Walter Kwok, Hong Kong Developer Who Survived Kidnapping, Dies at 68


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

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

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.

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.

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.

The year before, the same gang had kidnapped Victor Li, the son of the tycoon Li Ka-shing, who was freed after a ransom of about $125 million was paid.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Cheung’s 1998 trial in the mainland city of Guangzhou was closely followed in Hong Kong and 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 as the eldest son of Kwok Tak-seng, who in 1963 founded Sun Hung Kai Properties, one of the city’s biggest development companies. The conglomerate built many apartment complexes and developed some of Hong Kong’s most famous commercial buildings, including its two tallest, the International Commerce Center and the International Finance Center.

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

Mr. Kwok had said he suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after his kidnapping. His brothers Raymond and Thomas took up increasing roles in the day-to-day operation of the company.

In 2008, his family moved to have him ousted as head of Sun Hung Kai. The bitter battle for control again thrust the Kwok family drama into the headlines. His brothers asserted in court filings that he had bipolar affective disorder, arguing that the condition should disqualify him from running the conglomerate. They also said Mr. Kwok’s mistress had become inappropriately involved in company business.

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

The company’s board voted to remove him, and his mother took over as chairman. 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.

Mr. Kwok had recently tried to renegotiate that settlement, arguing that the properties he received had not appreciated as quickly as those of his brothers.

Mr. Kwok remained a nonexecutive board member of Sun Hung Kai until 2014. He also founded his own development company, Empire Group Holdings.

Mr. Kwok’s brothers, who survive him, were charged in connection with a bribery scandal in 2012 that led to the imprisonment of Rafael Hui, who had previously been the second-highest official in Hong Kong’s government. The case was touched off by an anonymous letter received by Hong Kong’s anticorruption agency at the end of 2008.

Thomas Kwok was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for paying more than $1 million and providing other benefits to Mr. Hui. Raymond Kwok was acquitted.

Walter Kwok, who was arrested but never charged in the case, sought to distance himself from the scandal, saying he had not been involved in employing Mr. Hui. The high-profile family conflict prompted speculation in Hong Kong that he had tipped off the authorities about the bribery, but such allegations were never proven.

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