HONG KONG (Reuters) – The billionaire founder of Hong Kong property group New World Development Co Ltd, Cheng Yu-tung, died late on Thursday aged 91, the company said on Friday.
Cheng amassed an over $16 billion fortune building an empire that spans jewellery, real estate, hotels, infrastructure and telecommunications, through deals including with U.S. businessman and presidential candidate Donald Trump.
He is also known for making Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd, which he joined as a trainee in 1947, a household name across Asia.
Cheng, who was born in China’s southern province of Guangdong, died peacefully with his family at his side, New World said in a statement, without elaborating on the cause of death. He is survived by wife Chow Tsui Ying and four children.
His son Henry Cheng succeeded him at the helm of New World four years ago.
Speaking with reporters on Friday, the younger Cheng said he was “definitely not happy” but that the death would have no impact on New World, a $12 billion company which controls properties across Asia including Hong Kong’s Grand Hyatt hotel.
“He had spent the past four years in bed. He was unconscious,” Henry Cheng told reporters.
The elder Cheng suffered a brain haemorrhage and underwent a major operation four years ago, Cheng also said, according to Commercial Radio Hong Kong.
In December 2011, the initial public offering of Chow Tai Fook boosted Cheng’s fortune by $7 billion, according to Forbes. The magazine estimated Cheng’s net worth at $16.6 billion, ranking him 58th richest in the world and third in Hong Kong in 2016.
Cheng was known as a golfer and poker player with a reputation for being soft spoken and friendly. His friends included other Hong Kong billionaires including Lee Shau Kee, chairman of Henderson Land Development Co Ltd, and Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho.
Cheng was frequently seen on the streets of Hong Kong and often photographed by local media. Due to his dark cropped hair and mole to the right of his mouth, he was often likened to an elderly Chinese uncle rather than a powerful billionaire.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Additional reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Christopher Cushing)