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'Superman' Li takes a hit but is still No. 1

HONG Kong's 40 richest people have lost over half their combined wealth as the global economic meltdown takes its toll on the free-wheeling billionaires, but kingpin Li Ka-shing still holds the top spot.

Li, dubbed "Superman," had almost half his wealth whittled away to leave him with US$16.2 billion, Forbes magazine said in its "Hong Kong's 40 richest" list for 2009.

The head of Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa, Li, 80, built a plastic-flower business into a diversified global business empire.

The fortunes of Hong Kong's top 40 richest plunged from US$179 billion a year ago to US$82 billion, according to Forbes.

The number of billionaires fell from more than 40 to 19.

Number two on the list were the Kwok brothers: Walter, Raymond and Thomas, who head up Sun Hung Kai Properties with a net worth of US$10.8 billion. Their wealth was eroded by 55 percent amid the financial crisis.

Eldest son Walter, the firm's long-standing helmsman, was cut off from the firm last year by his younger siblings in a major boardroom mutiny, with their octogenarian mother taking over the reins as non-executive chairman.

Meanwhile tycoon Lee Shau-kee, 81, known as Asia's Warren Buffett, saw some of his stock-picking prowess tarnished as Hong Kong's stock market plunged, with a US$14 billion fall in wealth. Still third richest in Hong Kong, he's now worth US$9 billion.

Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho, 87, saw his pile of chips crumble 89 percent to US$1 billion in a woeful year, sending his ranking plunging from fifth to 19th.

Ho, a colorful self-made billionaire of mixed European-Chinese parentage, has been buffeted by a sharp gambling contraction in Macau, competition from glitzy Las-Vegas style mega-casinos and an ill-timed public offering.

Li Ka-shing's son, Richard, popularly known as "Superboy" and now in the throes of privatizing the city's dominant telecommunications utility PCCW, was worth US$1.1 billion and ranked 16th.

One apparent beneficiary of the downturn is Michael Chan, owner of budget food chain Cafe De Coral. With diners turning increasingly to economical dining, Chan, ranked 35, is a new entrant to the list with US$560 million.


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