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Ailing billionaire Stanley Ho said Wednesday he has settled a dispute with family members over the transfer of his stake in Macau casinos, the latest twist in an apparent feud over who will control a business empire that vies with Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts for dominance in the world's biggest gambling market.
The controversy erupted after casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings, known as SJM, told the Hong Kong stock exchange on Monday that Ho had given nearly all his shares to five of his 16 children and one of the several women he calls his wives.
A lawyer acting for Ho had said the billionaire disputed the share transfer and was vowing legal action while the family members released a flurry of statements and documents that they said proved he agreed to it.
"The big issues have been settled," Ho said in a slow and halting statement read for a local television station, flanked by his third wife Ina Chan, who received about half of Ho's stake in SJM, and their daughter Florinda Ho.
The footage showed Ho being wheeled out in a chair at Chan's home in an upscale Hong Kong neighborhood. He paused frequently to take breaths as he read from a large cue card
Ho said it was his wish that his instructions to transfer the shares be carried out. He also fired his lawyer, Gordon Oldham, thanking him for his services but saying they were no longer needed. Oldham's firm released a statement Wednesday night saying that it continues to represent Ho following a meeting with him.
"This recent disturbance has made me very unhappy and my family very unhappy because in the past 10 years I've loved my family very much and have not taken measures: 'I sue you, you sue me'," Ho said.
The developments appear to reflect a family power struggle as Ho had reportedly planned to equally divide his casino business among his children. The billionaire presided over the rise of Macau's casino industry during four decades until his monopoly was broken up by the government in 2002.
Foreign competitors such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. now operate in Macau, the world's biggest gambling market. Some are in joint ventures with Ho's children, such as MGM Resorts International which has partnered with daughter Pansy Ho. SJM, which operates 17 casinos and four slot machine lounges, is still one of the biggest players.
The family members repeatedly denied seizing Ho's shares, saying he approved the transfer of his 32 percent stake in a company that owns over half of SJM.
Ho had surgery in 2009 for unspecified reasons and spent seven months in hospital. Local media reported that he underwent brain surgery after hitting his head. He has rarely appeared in public since.
Ho's lawyers said he "discovered much to his horror" that his 100 percent ownership of Lanceford Co. -- which holds the 32 percent stake in SJM's parent company -- had been diluted after new shares were issued, reducing his share to 1 percent, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday.
Half of the shares in Lanceford were then transferred to a company owned by Chan -- Ho's third wife -- and the other half to another company owned equally by the five children by his second wife.
SJM shares fell more than 5 percent to 13.08 Hong Kong dollars Wednesday, making the disputed stake worth about 12.7 billion Hong Kong dollars ($1.62 billion.)