Insurance Broker Accused Of Scheme To Join Forbes Billionaires List
“Meet the Hong Kong billionaire targeting a new Formula 1 team,” reads an article from The Independent published in May. “Hong Kong insurance billionaire Calvin Lo staying clear of crypto investing,” says another report on that same billionaire, this time from CNBC. A quick internet search of Lo’s name reveals numerous other articles that also refer to him as a “billionaire,” but those media assertions are false, business magazine Forbes claimed in a bombshell article published this week. Instead, they allege, Lo falsified his wealth in an effort to gain a position on its annual Billionaires List, in which the magazine ranks the wealthiest people in the world.
It’s a claim that Lo—through an attorney—denies, saying that “all insinuations that our client has been dishonest, untruthful or otherwise unethical are hereby categorically denied by him.” But according to a “nearly year-long investigation” that included conversations with “40 people in six countries” and “hundreds of pages of documents,” Lo isn’t a billionaire at all, and is instead only worth “less than $200 million.” And that’s with the assets of both of his parents thrown into the mix.
It’s a far cry from the man described in an April Reuters report as the likely bidder on a new F1 team, and who said that “The financial part, believe it or not, to me is actually not the biggest problem,” of launching a new auto racing effort. But according to Forbes reporters Robert Olsen, John Kang, and Zinnia Lee, the many articles from reputable outlets that presented Lo as an investor in the Williams Formula 1 racing team, as well as the aspiring owner of a new outfit, were false. Other articles claim he owns the Mandarin Oriental Taipei, while others reported that he had graduated from Harvard Business School. Both assertions are also incorrect, Forbes reports.
”He is hardly the first person to lie to Forbes about the size of his fortune,” Forbes writes, but “Lo stands out for the audacity of his claims and the lengths to which he was willing to go.”
Lo is the CEO of R.E. Lee International, a six-decade-old life insurance brokerage headquartered in Hong Kong. Lo’s mother, Regina Lee, worked at the brokerage in its early days, and purchased the company in 2015. “It is possible she eventually gave the entire business to Lo,” Forbes speculates, and according to the judge that oversaw Lo’s 2014 divorce, “He was being groomed by his mother into a high-flying investment broker with a lifestyle which he clearly could not afford with his salary.”
It also appears, based on Forbes’s reporting, that Lo was not flying as high as he claimed. For example, when speaking with The Independent earlier this year, Lo appears to have claimed that he owned “a suite of supercars and a collection of tip-top champagne, with a single batch costing $230m.” However, according to Forbes, that champagne collection valuation “seems absurdly high.” According to Tim Triptree, Christie’s International Director of Wine & Spirits in London, “I don’t think over $100 million would be feasible” for any collection of bubbles. “I find that unlikely.”
Equally unlikely appears to be the supercar ownership assertion: While Forbes concedes that it did indeed find a photo of Lo next to a Pagani Huayra Tempesta—one of the most expensive cars on the planet—that image might not be real, the magazine reports, as it “found the exact same photo without Lo, which was taken by Robin Adams for a Sotheby’s auction in 2017. The photographer told Forbes that the picture had ‘obviously’ been altered and used without permission.”
It’s unclear why so many news outlets reported false and incorrect information about Lo’s wealth in recent years, but Forbes credits a series of PR agencies and four different Thai law firms with roles in bolstering his billionaire creds. But after the magazine let him know that he would not be included in its 2023 list, Lo appeared to become disenchanted with the publication, and said through a PR representative that he prefers to be “excluded from the wealth rankings published by Forbes.” Or, as he put it to The Independent earlier this year, “In my view, the wealthier you are… you don’t go out and flaunt it. Well, some do, most don’t!”