Yip Kai-foon was dubbed by Hongkongers “the robber king”. The name stuck until he was arrested in 1985 and sentenced to 18 years in jail. Four years later he escaped from a hospital toilet after faking an illness. On the run, Yip became Hong Kong’s most wanted criminal for masterminding a series of further robberies until he was finally arrested in 1996 when he tried to sneak back into the territory from mainland China.
The elder son of Hong Kong’s richest businessman Li Ka-shing was kidnapped that same month, and many think that Yip was involved in the abduction (which was settled with a $125 million ransom, see WiC210).
Last week a bathroom in the same Hong Kong hospital was the site of another dramatic disappearing act. The fugitive this time round was a major shareholder of a Hong Kong-listed healthcare firm.
Identified by police as Leon Li, the detainee was taken to the hospital last Friday morning after warning police that he was suffering from AIDS. He arrived there handcuffed but while waiting for an HIV test he began to complain of diarrhoea. After repeated visits to the toilet, he was eventually uncuffed and allowed into the loo alone. Initial investigations reveal that the suspect then opened up the washroom’s false ceiling, crawled across to the ward next door and vanished.
Interest in the fugitive quickly intensified after his colourful background came to light. Li had already been arrested by Hong Kong police in 2015 for handing in a fake identity card in an application for a US visa. He skipped bail and fled, although he was arrested again on returning to Hong Kong using a passport issued by the Dominican Republic.
Li claims to be a graduate in medicine from Cambridge University and last year he became a major shareholder in China Environmental Tech (CMT) after swapping a 20% stake in the Hong Kong firm for a fertility clinic he had founded in China. Reportedly he planned to inject more of his fertility business into CMT to capitalise on rising demand for its services since the end of the One-Child Policy three years ago.
Li (pictured above) was recaptured by police in Hong Kong 36 hours after his bathroom breakout when he was spotted smoking outside a five-star hotel. But his disappearing act had already proved disastrous for CMT, which saw its shares plunge 49% amid a heavy sell-off.
So why did he come back to Hong Kong in the first place? According to local newspaper Singtao Daily the debt deleveraging campaign that has been ramped up across the border in mainland China has created a cash crisis for many businesspeople, who have been under pressure to sell their stockholdings in Hong Kong to raise funds. The implication is that Li came back to the city in a bid to save his business in some way. Regulatory filings on his shareholdings could soon reveal if this was the case.
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