Private Banker Dancing Queen
Banker dances to $62m fees victory
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
"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
(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
'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
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
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.