Hong Kong welcomes the “man in the street” to set up a local family office as long as their money is legitimate, the city’s leader has said amid a recent controversy over a Dubai prince’s commitment to investing in the international finance hub.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu also stressed on Tuesday that the city must avoid being passive in its efforts to attract “super-valued” asset owners to set up local family offices, as many locations were competing to attract such opportunities.
“They create very strong positive economic and financial benefits to the city, so we will do our best to invite as many to come, provided their money is legitimate money,” he said in response to a question from the Post before his weekly Executive Council meeting.

“We welcome [all], whether he is a man in the street or he comes from a wealthy family, or he [manages] a sovereignty fund. I think that is the attitude we should take.”

Sheikh Ali Rashed Ali Saeed Al Maktoum was thrust into the media spotlight in recent weeks after he pledged and then delayed plans to open a US$500 million family office in Hong Kong.

The prince was initially reported to be a nephew of Dubai’s ruler and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, before he was later identified as a member of a distant family branch.

He attracted further public attention last month after he called off an inauguration ceremony at the eleventh hour, prompting questions from some parties over his commitment to the investment.

The Post also reported that Maktoum had an alter ego as a singer-songwriter known as Alira, who was popular in the Philippines, before he began his shift from a performer to a sustainability focused investor last year.

Maktoum’s second visit to the city last month included speaking at a session of the Wealth for Good in Hong Kong summit.

Chief Executive John Lee attends a press conference ahead of his weekly Exco meeting. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Government sources previously said only “basic” checks were performed before the sheikh’s engagement, as they feared a stringent review might offend the VIP.

The sheikh later issued several statements reiterating his commitment to the plan, which was postponed to the end of May.

Without naming Maktoum, Lee said the government should balance the benefits against the risks when they approached family offices.

“Overall, provided the money is legitimate money, I think we should take all reasonable action to attract them to come,” he said.

Middle East family offices on agenda for Hong Kong officials, bureau says

Lee also stressed the city had done a lot to improve its attractiveness in this regard, such as offering tax concessions to family offices.

The website and LinkedIn page of Dubai Sheikh Ali Rashed Ali Saeed Al Maktoum’s private office were found to be no longer accessible last Wednesday, before the former was back in action the next day.

Both pages were offline as of Tuesday.