China’s ‘Ping-Pong Prince’ in Gambling Debt Dispute

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Kong Linghui denies a Singapore casino debt claim.

  • Sued for US$329,000 by Marina Bay Sands casino
  • Suspended as head coach of Chinese women’s table tennis team
  • Claimed that “debt dispute” involved friends and relatives

One of China’s best-known table tennis champions, the former gold medallist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games, is dubbed ‘Ping-Pong Prince’.

It looked like a lawsuit by Marina Bay Sands (MBS) in Singapore could take it all away from Kong Linghui, including his job because he is a Communist Party member and public official.

Gambling is illegal in mainland China but common folks are allowed to do so when they visit gambling havens like Las Vegas and Macau. However, party members and officials paid a salary from public funds are prohibited from doing so.

Kong was suspended as head coach of the Chinese women’s table tennis team after being sued in Hong Kong by MBS over a gaming debt of HK$2.55 million (US$329,000). This was a “serious violation” of discipline for a national public official, the government-backed Chinese Table Tennis Association said in a statement on Tuesday.

However, according to Sing Tao Daily, Kong claimed he was innocent.

According to a writ filed last week by MBS with the Hong Kong High Court and revealed by the media on Monday, 41-year-old Kong signed a credit agreement to borrow S$1 million (US$722,341) during the Lunar New Year holiday in 2015.

Of the S$1 million loan, S$100,000 was used to “establish him as a premium player”, the South China Morning Post reported. Kong repaid S$545,625 but still owed the hotel S$454,375, it said.

In response, Kong said on Tuesday that he was at the casino with his parents and friends during that period but did not gamble. He said he signed as a guarantor so that one of his friends could get a loan from the casino operator. He added that he had no idea that his friend has not paid the debt.

Kong, who is currently in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he is leading a Chinese women’s team to the World Table Tennis Championships, said his friends in Macau have helped him pay MBS the balance of the debt plus interest and lawyer’s fees totalling more than S$500,000.

A spokesman for China’s General Administration of Sport expressed concern about the incident, saying Kong as a famous athlete and coach, should have paid attention to his reputation. According to Apple Daily, Kong was ordered to return to China immediately for investigation.

Meanwhile, Kong received support from some netizens, who questioned why MBS took so long to pursue the debt.

In a post on his Weibo social media account, Kong said he was “deeply disturbed by the negative impact” of the incident but denied he had been gambling.

“My friends and family members went downstairs to the hotel’s casino to entertain themselves. I stood by to watch them. During the time they were playing I went to get chips for them and left my personal information”, he said.

He added that the “debt dispute” involved some of his friends and relatives.

Kong, known for using the ‘shakehand’ grip favoured by European competitors, ended his playing career in 2006 and became the national women’s coach in 2013.

The current fiasco is not the first time Kong has been in legal hot water. In 2006, he crashed his Porsche into a Beijing taxi while driving drunk. He was fined and had his licence suspended.

For those not familiar with Kong’s ping-pong prowess, watch him deliver four thundering smashes against former English Champion Matthew Syed way back when he was still an unknown 18-year-old.