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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's 40 richest men have lost over half their combined wealth as the global economic meltdown takes its toll on the capitalist haven's free-wheeling billionaires, but kingpin Li Ka-shing still holds the top spot.
Li, dubbed "Superman," saw almost half his wealth whittled away to leave him with $16.2 billion, Forbes Magazine says in its "Hong Kong's 40 richest" list for 2009.
The head of Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa, Li, 80, who fled Japanese-occupied China in 1940, built a plastic flower business into a diversified global business empire.
The fortunes of Hong Kong's top 40 richest plunged from $179 billion a year ago to $82 billion according to Forbes.
The number of billionaires fell from over 40 to 19.
Number two on the list were the feuding Kwok brothers; Walter, Raymond and Thomas, who head up Sun Hung Kai Properties with a net worth of $10.8 billion. Their wealth was eroded by 55 percent amid the financial crisis.
Eldest son Walter, the firm's longstanding helmsman, was last year cut off from the firm by his younger siblings in a major boardroom mutiny, with their octogenarian mother taking over the reins as non-executive chairman.
Meanwhile tycoon Lee Shau-kee, 81, known as Asia's Warren Buffett, saw some of his stock-picking prowess tarnished as Hong Kong's stock market plunged, with a $14 billion fall in wealth. Still third richest in Hong Kong, he's now worth $9 billion.
Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho, 87, saw his pile of chips crumble 89 percent to $1 billion in a woeful year, sending his ranking plunging from 5th to 19th.
Ho, a colorful self-made billionaire of mixed European-Chinese parentage, has been buffeted by a sharp gambling contraction in Macau, competition from glitzy Las-Vegas style mega-casinos and an ill-timed public offering.
Li Ka-shing's son, Richard, popularly known as "Superboy" and now in the throes of privatizing the city's dominant telecoms utility PCCW, was worth $1.1 billion and ranked 16th.
One apparent beneficiary of the downturn however is Michael Chan, owner of budget Chinese food chain Cafe De Coral. With diners turning increasingly to economical dining, Chan, ranked 35, is a new entrant to the list and rings in with $560 million.
Media tycoon, vociferous China critic and democracy advocate Jimmy Lai ranked 33rd with a net worth of $660 million.
Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by David Fox