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Private Banker Dancing Queen

In a city used to the exuberance of its wealthiest inhabitants, Mimi Monica Wong set new standards with her passion for the rumba, samba and cha-cha.

The 120 million Hong Kong dollars, or $15.4 million, she agreed to pay for eight years of Latin dance classes has bemused and entertained many a Hong Kong dinner table.

Wong, who as head of HSBC's Asian private banking business advised the bank's richest customers on how to invest, had become so impassioned with mastering Latin dance that in 2004 she entered the exorbitant deal with two top dance instructors. She even turned over a 62 million Hong Kong dollar advance to Gaynor Fairweather, a world Latin dance champion, and her Italian husband, Mirko Saccani.

But on Wednesday, Wong, recently the butt of a lot of jokes, delivered her own punchline: a court ordered that her money be returned, with interest.

The ruling by the High Court of Hong Kong gave Wong, the 61-year-old daughter of a shipping tycoon, the last word on a relationship with her dance tutors she had described as "an affair."

Clifford Chance, which represented Fairweather and Saccani, said the firm was awaiting instructions from its clients on whether to consider an appeal, Dow Jones reported.

It all ended painfully one afternoon, soon after Wong had paid her money. Watching Wong perform at a ballroom dancing session in a Hong Kong restaurant in August 2004, Saccani called her a "lazy cow" and used coarse language.

Wong said the insults - shouted in front of about 50 dancers, clients and friends - had caused her to be "humiliated and embarrassed." She claimed she suffered severe emotional distress after the incident. The dancing classes came to an abrupt end before the multimillion-dollar agreement took effect, and the three ended up in court.

Wong sued to have her money returned. Saccani, 31, and Fairweather, 49, countersued for the outstanding amount under their agreement. Pending the outcome, a court froze the bank accounts of the dance instructors.

In a written judgment delivered Wednesday, Gerard Muttrie, a deputy High Court judge, found that even if Wong was in default of the agreement he could not see why "she should not have her money back, subject to any claim for damages which the defendants might have.".

"They took her money for services in the future which she would never take up," Muttrie stated.

Walter Wat, president of the Hong Kong Ballroom Dancing Council, said local dance instructors would normally charge students 400 Hong Kong dollars an hour for classes. Respected foreign instructors might earn up to 3,000 dollars an hour from wealthy clients.

"This is the most extraordinary case I have heard of," said Wat, who has taught dance in Hong Kong for 25 years. "This is the largest amount of money paid for dance lessons in the world. Monica Wong was very ambitious".

While Wat said dance classes were a popular past-time with the well-to-do women of Hong Kong, most prefer the more staid styles of ballroom dancing to the energetic and sensuous Latin dances.

In Wong's line of work, where clients appreciate discretion, the publicity surrounding the case could not have been helpful. After the verdict, Wong, a fit and attractive woman, greeted a throng of journalists, but kept her comments brief.

"I'm pleased with the outcome," Reuters quoted her as saying. "I'm hopeful that the judgment will be the end of it."

Why Wong ever agreed to pay such a large sum for dancing classes is not clear. Before the agreement with Fairweather and Saccani she had been paying just 1,000 Hong Kong dollars an hour for her lessons.

She began taking lessons with Fairweather in 2000 and the amounts escalated rapidly. In 2002, she paid about a million Hong Kong dollars for lessons and competitions and then agreed to a two-year deal of unlimited classes that cost about 10 million dollars.

Clearly, Wong, a widow, became so captivated by the glamour of dance competition that it clouded her judgment. Under the tutelage of Fairweather and Saccani, she won dance prizes, including in competitions in Los Angeles.

"It is common enough for any professional person to act, in private life, in a way in which one would not expect him to act professionally," Muttrie said in his ruling. "What is clear in this case is that Ms. Wong was affected very much by her obsession for dancing."

At least when it comes to dancing, Wong is undeterred by the experience.

"I will continue to dance and compete for as long as possible," she said Wednesday. "It is my passion."    - by Donald Greenlees , INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE   6 Sept 2006

Banker dances to $62m fees victory

Dancing queen and high-flying banker Mimi Monica Wong won a HK$62 million lawsuit Wednesday against her Latin-American dance teachers after the High Court ruled she was humiliated in front of her friends and business associates.

The court heard that Wong, 61, who once won the accolade of "Top Gold Lady" at a dancing competition, had agreed to pay her teachers, Mirko Saccani, 31, and his wife, Gaynor Fairweather, 49, HK$120 million for unlimited private lessons and priority bookings for a period of 10 years, and had put down a deposit of HK$62 million.

But, in August 2004, after two "humiliating" public dance sessions at the Li Hua Restaurant in Causeway Bay, in which Saccani, her dancing partner, reduced her to tears with his verbal abuse, Wong felt she could no longer continue the relationship.

Deputy Judge Gerard Muttrie ordered that the plaintiff be repaid damages equalling HK$62 million, plus interest. The judgment brought to an end a story that had begun as a beautiful relationship between three dancing enthusiasts that soured because of jealousy and self-doubt of one's own dancing performance.

Judge Muttrie ruled that Saccani's treatment of his most valuable client at the restaurant had violated the "mutual trust, confidence and respect" implied in the teacher-student relationship and that he had breached the contract.

Wong, who heads HSBC's private banking business and is the daughter of a shipping tycoon, said Saccani lost his temper when he saw ano
the dancing couple, made up of his wife's former champion dance partner and his ex- student, receive greater applause.

Witnesses said he had "killer eyes" and heard him say: "If you do that again, I'm going to smash [those water containers] over your f***ing head," and "if you don't get it f***ing right, I'll throw you out thef***ing window."

Muttrie rejected Saccani's attempt to explain his use of foul language as a motivational technique. "The conduct went much further than the kind of motivational language she had accepted in the past," Muttrie wrote in his judgment.

"Further, this was not in the studio; it was at two public performances. I accept that Ms Wong was humiliated by Mr Saccani's treatment of her."

The judge also accepted that Saccani had told Wong in a fit of anger after the Li Hua performances: "Everything's off, no more lessons, no more competitions, I'll give you your money back."

The case, heard in mid-June, gave the public a glimpse of how the rich and powerful like to flaunt their wealth, and even after the trial, gossip magazines hounded Wong and her family for more stories, but with limited success.

Speaking outside her luxury Mid- Levels home Wednesday, Wong said she hoped the judgment would bring to an end further discussions about the case.

"I'm pleased with the outcome. The dispute was over a matter of principle and it was necessary to settle it in court," she said.

"I hope you'll understand I do not propose to discuss this case or anything else to do with it any further."

As to her passion for dancing, she said: "I'll continue to dance and compete for as long as it's possible."

Wong began dancing lessons in the late 1990s and was first taught by Fairweather, a 15 times World Professional Latin Dancing Champion, for HK$1,000 per 45-minute lesson.

But her interest in the Olympic sport "increased almost to the point of obsession," Muttrie wrote.

In 2002, she agreed to a HK$10 million, two-year package for unlimited lessons, priority bookings, and using Saccani as her dancing partner in competitions. During that period, Wong took six lessons a day, seven days a week, with each lasting 45 minutes.

Both parties described their early days as a "close relationship," with Fairweather calling Wong "my little project, my love and my heart."

Wong would pay for both their first- class air fares to fly around the world, stay in the same hotels, practice in ballrooms and compete successfully.

Wong would win Latin American dance competitions in the over-50 age group, while still competing with distinction in the 18-50 age groups.

Muttrie noted Saccani referred to his other students "who only wanted social dancing and to be partnered by their male teachers at tea and dances" as "cows," but Wong was not part of the herd.

But on August 25, 2004, and again on the 27th, during public practice sessions used to simulate a competition environment, Saccani may have felt upstaged by the presence of his wife's former dance partner, Donnie Burns, who received greater applause.

"In his eyes, [Wong] could do nothing right," wrote Muttrie, summarizing Wong's argument that he channeled his jealousy as anger towards her. Saccani told her he never wanted to see her again, according to Wong.

Saccani claimed it was Wong who was jealous of Ling Nelson, Burns' partner those two nights, and his former student.

He claimed she called herself "an old fool" and had to be "wrapped up in her coat and bundled out of the place."

Saccani claimed she later blamed him "for teaching Ling Nelson too well, so that she stole the limelight."

But Muttrie found Wong consistent with other witnesses, and Saccani to be incredible. Fairweather was also "pretty well demolished in cross-examination," Muttrie wrote.

He also believed Wong later offered to have only half her money back because she did not think Saccani would keep his word over promised repayments. - by Albert Wong    HONG KONG STANDARD      7 Sept 2006

HSBC Banker Monica Wong Wins Latin Dance Lawsuit

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- HSBC Holdings Plc banker Mimi Monica Wong won a Hong Kong lawsuit seeking the return of HK$60 million ($7.7 million) in fees she paid for Latin dance lessons.

``They took her money, for services in the future which she would never take up,'' Deputy High Court Judge Gerard Muttrie said in a 59-page written judgment today.

Wong had sued her Latin dance teachers Mirko Saccani and his wife Gaynor Fairweather for the return of the fees, part of a HK$120 million advance payment. He humiliated Wong in front of others at a practice session in August 2004. Media reports of the case made the 61-year-old head of HSBC's private banking unit in Asia a household name in the city.

Saccani, 31, admitted swearing and screaming at Wong at the practice session in Hong Kong's Li Hua Restaurant, and calling her a ``lazy cow'' to motivate her, according to the judgment.

Russell Coleman, a lawyer for the dance teachers, had told the court that jealousy and an emotional breakdown had led Wong to plan for an ``exit strategy'' for the return of the money after she found the audience's attention and applause were focused on another dancing couple at the practice session.

``I accept that Ms. Wong was humiliated by Mr. Saccani's treatment of her,'' Muttrie ruled. ``The conduct went much further than the motivational language she had accepted in the past,'' he said, rejecting the defendants' case that the contract couldn't be terminated without their consent.

Windfall Counterclaim

The judge also dismissed a counterclaim by the teachers for outstanding payments of $7.6 million. ``To seek to be paid 4 million pounds for services which will never be taken up is'' a ``windfall,'' he ruled. Coleman couldn't be reached for comment.

``I hope the judgment will be the end of it,'' a beaming Wong told reporters outside her home in the city's Mid-Levels district this afternoon.

Wong, who agreed to pay the HK$120 million to the couple for eight years of unlimited dance lessons and competitions from 2004, said she has a new Latin dance teacher.

``It is my passion and I will continue to dance and compete for as long as possible,'' she said.

Her dance achievements include first prize in the over-50 age group at the Los Angeles Embassy competition in September 2002 and the ``Top Gold Lady'' award at the May 2003 Emerald competition in the same U.S. city.

High Society

"Ballroom dancing is a pastime enjoyed, I am told, by some very wealthy people in Hong Kong's high society,'' Muttrie noted in his judgment.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the number of millionaires rose 7.3 percent to 2.4 million last year, according to a Capgemini SA and Merrill Lynch & Co. report in June. That compares with a 6.9 percent increase to 2.9 million in North America and a 4.5 percent rise to 2.8 million in Europe.

Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG were the region's leading managers of personal wealth with $61 billion of assets under management each in 2004, according to a 2005 Credit Suisse Group report. HSBC ranked third with $39 billion.

Gareth Hewett, HSBC's Hong Kong-based spokesman, declined to comment on the case.

The case is No. HCA2061/2004 in the Court of First Instance of the High Court.     - by Clare Cheung     BLOOMBERG  6 Sept 2006

 
HSBC banker Monica Wong wins Latin dance lawsuit
She gets back half of HK$120m paid for eight years of unlimited lessons

(HONG KONG) HSBC Holdings Plc banker Mimi Monica Wong won a Hong Kong lawsuit seeking the return of HK$60 million (S$12.1 million) in fees she paid for Latin dance lessons.

'They took her money, for services in the future which she would never take up,' Deputy High Court Judge Gerard Muttrie said in a 59-page written judgment yesterday.

Ms Wong had sued her Latin dance teachers Mirko Saccani and his wife Gaynor Fairweather, for the return of the fees, part of a HK$120 million advance payment, after he allegedly humiliated her publicly during a practice session at a Hong Kong restaurant in August 2004.

Press reporting of the case has made the 61 year-old head of HSBC's private banking unit in Asia a household name in the city.

Mr Saccani, 31, told Hong Kong's Court of First Instance he had called Ms Wong a 'lazy cow' to motivate her to do better, according to a report in the South China Morning Post on the trial.

Russell Coleman, a lawyer for the dance teachers who are suing for an outstanding contractual sum of 4 million (S$11.9 million), said jealousy and an emotional breakdown had led Ms Wong to plan an 'exit strategy' for the return of the money after she found the audience's attention and applause were focused on another dancing couple at the practice session, the Hong Kong newspaper reported.

Ms Wong, who agreed to pay the HK$120 million to the couple for eight years of unlimited dance lessons and competitions from 2004, has said she continues to be passionate about Latin dance and has a new teacher.    - Bloomberg   7 Sept 2006   Associated Press 

Ms. Wong is a highly regarded socialite in Hong Kong coming from one of the city's wealthy families which allows her access to the most rich and most powerful.

 


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