Father and Son Jailbirds

Dec 12, 2008
*Special to asia!
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On May 9, after Hong Kong jewellery tycoon Tse Sui-luen was sentenced to 39-months’ jail time for offering illegal kickbacks to travel agents and misuse of company funds, he walked out of the courtroom without a single look or word to his erstwhile favourite son Tommy.

This is hardly surprising. Tommy Tse Tat-fung, 40, is the person who landed his father in jail in the first place. The fact that Tommy himself is also sentenced to five years’ imprisonment has done little to redeem himself in the eyes of his 72-year-old father.

The jailing of the Tse father and son as well three other senior managers of the Hong Kong listed TSL Ltd ended a multi-year investigation that also brought in pleas of leniency from celebrities such as movie star Jackie Chan.

Tse is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, literally. The son of a rag-and-bone man, he had only two years of formal education, but he climbed his way up, by dint of hard work and astute business sense. He went from being an apprentice at a goldsmith shop to opening his first jewellery store to a net worth, in his heyday in 1997, of HK$2 billion.

But Tse has two fatal weaknesses – he is always keen on expansion, and he loves to buy property. The two traits landed him in financial trouble more than once, and he was declared bankrupt by his creditor banks in 2000, which he discharged four years later.

It was during his bankruptcy period that Tse placed Tommy, his younger and favourite son, in charge of TSL. The foreign-educated Tommy had very different ideas of how to run the business and quickly replaced many of the old guard with his own people. But he went along with his father when both started drawing company funds for private use, and offered kickbacks to travel agents to bring tourists – mostly from the mainland – to the TSL stores.

Tommy is a staunch Christian who runs his own bible-study classes in church. In 2002 he confessed the misdeeds to a financial consultant who advised him to declare them to the board, which started the investigation that landed the father and son in jail

In the courtroom on May 9, Tse was expressionless.

The bankrupt Tse, was not on the TSL board when Tommy came clean. He was only told about it later. A man with a severe heart condition – in 1994 his heart stopped twice during an operation – Tse had a heart attack after hearing the news and was hospitalised. From then on the two seldom talked, even after intervention of other family members.

At the courtroom on May 9, Tse teared slightly when the sentence was passed. Tommy, on the other hand, smiled at his wife and made a V sign with his fingers. "I am happy to have come clean. If the Lord wants me to go to jail, I am willing to carry out his will," Tommy had told some of his church members at the start of the saga. He has gotten his wish and, in his eyes, gained favour with his heavenly father, though at the expense of his earthly one.


lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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