London’s most expensive house is owned by the head of embattled Chinese property group Evergrande, according to people familiar with the secretive £210mn sale that was struck just before Covid-19 hit the UK.
The 45-room mansion overlooking Hyde Park was sold by the estate of the former Saudi Arabian crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz for its record-breaking price in January 2020.
The public face of the acquisition of 2-8a Rutland Gate was Cheung Chung-kiu, a Chinese property developer whose company CC Land owns London’s “Cheesegrater” skyscraper.
However, according to five people familiar with the matter, Hui Ka Yan, the founder and chair of Evergrande and once China’s richest man, was ultimately behind it.
Hui and Cheung are part of a well-known circle of Hong Kong tycoons who played cards and socialised together. The pair have had multiple business dealings over the past decade and CC Land has previously sold projects on the mainland to Evergrande.
The London house sale involved a British Virgin Islands company called Vision Perfect Global Ltd buying the property from Curaçao-registered Yunak Property Corp, according to Land Registry documents.
Two CC Land executives are named as directors of a related UK-based company; a person recorded in February 2020 as holding 75 per cent or more of the company is Ding Yumei, Hui’s wife.
After founding Evergrande in 1996, Hui built the company into China’s biggest property developer. He became known for a lavish lifestyle that included property purchases around the world through shell companies.
Evergrande has been stricken by China’s property crisis, with Hui, whose fortune was estimated to have peaked at $45bn, trying to sell personal assets, including private jets.
Several people familiar with the situation said the London property was also in effect for sale, although there was no formal process.
“There’s a price for everything,” said one person involved in the 2020 sale who is in regular contact with the current owners.
Another person close to the owners said: “It’s very hard to put a price tag on it: it’s like an artwork or a diamond. If someone really wants it, they will pay.”
The property was bought in the early 1980s by Yunak Corporation, then run by Lebanon’s late prime minister Rafiq Hariri and gifted to the Saudi crown prince after Hariri’s assassination in 2005. It was first put on the market seven years later after the death of bin Abdulaziz.
Beauchamp Estates, which managed the 2020 sale, is likely to be appointed in any formal sales process, according to multiple people involved.
Potential buyers of Rutland Gate are likely to seek a steep discount to the 2020 price if Hui is the seller, said one property executive in Hong Kong familiar with the matter.
“There are only so many buyers in this market, and everyone [in those circles] knows Evergrande is behind it,” the executive said.
While properties such as Rutland Gate are only within the reach of the super-wealthy, a new owner will have to shoulder the cost of finishing the refurbishment of the sprawling, 5,782 sq metre home.
There is planning permission for work on the inside and outside of the property, including demolishing and replacing the top two floors, but it has not been completed. A website for the property lists CC Land UK as the project’s development manager.
CC Land said the company was connected to the property but does not own it. Evergrande and Hui did not respond to a request for comment.
Blinds were down in all of the property’s 58 Hyde Park-facing windows when the Financial Times visited this week.
Additional reporting by Cynthia O’Murchu