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Friday, September 30, 2016, 21:45

Billionaire tycoon and philanthropist dies at 91

By Luis Liu
Billionaire tycoon and philanthropist dies at 91
Cheng Yu-Tung, chairman of New World Development, leaves after the company's annual general meeting in Hong Kong, Dec 7, 2004. ( AFP PHOTO / MIKE CLARKE)

Former chairman of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group and New World Development Cheng Yu-tung died at the age of 91 on Thursday. The Hong Kong billionaire was famous for his extensive business dealings and real estate investments in Hong Kong, Macao and the mainland.

In a statement to the media, the Cheng family said Cheng died peacefully with his family by his side last night. Details of the funeral service will be announced later, Cheng’s family said.

After an operation to deal with a brain hemorrhage four years ago, he remained in a coma, according to his elder son Henry Cheng Kar-shun.

The businessman was the third-richest man in the city with an estimated net worth of $12.7 billion, according to Bloomberg statistics. His businesses include jewelry, property, infrastructure, energy, public transport services, department stores and retail chains.

Cheng was also a major philanthropist in Hong Kong. He had donated a building named after him at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He had also pledged a HK$400 million gift to the University of Hong Kong.

Being unable to finish school as a child encouraged him to help future generations become educated, he explained in an earlier speech.

He was granted the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2008 for his contribution to society.

Cheng was honorary chairman of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, which operates more than 2,000 outlets worldwide. Its revenue was more than 70 percent larger than that of New York-based Tiffany & Co in the latest fiscal year.

In February 2012, Cheng announced his retirement as chairman of New World Development, founded in 1970. His son Henry Cheng succeeded him as chairman.

Cheng Yu-tung was born in 1925, in Shunde, Guangdong province. He was a refugee during Japan’s invasion of China and fled to Macao in 1938. He started his career as a gold shop apprentice who married his boss’ daughter and helped develop it into the world’s largest jewelry retailer – Chow Tai Fook Jewellry.

In 1946, Cheng moved to Hong Kong from Macao to open a store. In 1950s, Cheng profited from selling gold and started his property purchases as the city’s population swelled to more than 2 million.

Cheng expanded his property business after the 1967 riot in Hong Kong as property prices plunged 71 percent. He started the New World Centre, a landmark retail-hotel-residential-office complex in Kowloon.

Cheng took Chow Tai Fook public in December 2011, raising $2 billion in a Hong Kong share sale.

He also had interests in Shun Tak Holdings, the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, owned by casino emperor Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and Hang Seng Bank, Hong Kong's third-largest bank.

Cheng and his wife had two sons, Henry Cheng and Peter Cheng Kar-shing, and two daughters, Amy Cheng Sau-ha and Cheng Lai-ha.

Bloomberg contributed to this story.

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