Kidnapped Hong Kong tycoon rescued in Taiwan worked his way up from a cafe helper

Known as "Master Chef Kwan" in Hong Kong's business sector, Mr Wong, 68, rose from a cafe helper to an executive chef in 10 years.
Known as "Master Chef Kwan" in Hong Kong's business sector, Mr Wong, 68, rose from a cafe helper to an executive chef in 10 years.PHOTO: SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Mr Wong Yuk Kwan, the chairman of oil exploration company Pearl Oriental Oil, who made the news recently after he was kidnapped in Taiwan, was not only a well-known tycoon in Hong Kong, but also a legendary character, according to Taiwan's Formosa TV.

The last time Mr Wong, also known as Wong Kwan, made the front page of the newspapers before the kidnap was in 2013, when he was charged with fraud over the purchase of an oilfield in the US state of Utah.

Known as "Master Chef Kwan" in Hong Kong's business sector, Mr Wong, 68, came from China's Guangdong province to Hong Kong at the age of 18 and rose from a cafe helper to an executive chef in 10 years.

He set up the Pearl Oriental Holdings in 1985, and with a capital of HK$150,000, he speculated in properties and joined the ranks of the tycoons during the property boom.

At its peak, his fortune was HK$18 billion, Taiwan's United Daily News reported.

He listed the company in Hong Kong in 1994, and in 1996, bought luxury mansions Skyhigh and Genesis on Victoria Peak for HK$370 million and HK$540 million respectively.

The Genesis was listed in the Guinness World Records at that time as the most expensive single house in the world.

Veteran journalist Tao Huan Chang said of Mr Wong's business venture: "Before Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997, Mr Wong had the foresight to pour huge investments in Hong Kong's property market, and became rich as a result."

Mr Wong has also invested in up to nine other sectors, like gaming in Macau, coal and logistics. He quit the gaming sector after suffering losses.

Pearl Oriental Holdings met with financial difficulties after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and he sold his stake in the company in 2001.

Mr Wong ventured into the energy market in 2006 when he established Pearl Oriental Oil, but was accused of fraud related to a HK$500 million (S$90 million) transaction of a United States oilfield, and later charged by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Mr Wong was released on HK$5 million bail after he was charged, and later went to Taiwan for medical treatment.

He kept a low profile until he went missing last month, and news of his kidnapping drew the attention of the media.

rueyyan@sph.com.sg