The real buyer of London’s most expensive home


London’s most expensive house is owned by the chairman of troubled Chinese real estate group Evergrande, according to people briefed on the secret sale of the £210 million property, which it happened just before Covid-19 hit the UK.

The 45-bedroom mansion overlooking Hyde Park was sold by the estate of former Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz in January 2020 for a record price.

The public face of the acquisition of the house at 2-8a Rutland Gate was Cheung Chung-kiu, a Chinese real estate developer whose company, CC Land, owns “Cheesegrater” [ralador de queijo]iconic London skyscraper.

However, according to five people briefed on the situation, Hui Ka Yan, founder and chairman of Evergrande and in the recent past China’s richest man, was actually the man behind the transaction.

Hui and Cheung are part of a well-known circle of Hong Kong tycoons who played cards together and hung out frequently. The pair have completed multiple deals over the past ten years, and CC Land has already sold projects in mainland China to Evergrande.

The sale of the London home involved a British Virgin Islands company called Vision Perfect Global, which acquired Curacao-based Yunak Property Corp, according to British Land Registry documents.

Two CC Land executives are identified as directors of a related UK-based company; a person registered in February 2020 as owning 75% or more of the company is Ding Yumei, Hui’s wife.

After founding Evergrande in 1996, Hui built the company into China’s largest real estate developer. He became known for a lavish lifestyle that included purchasing properties around the world through shell companies.

Evergrande has been hurt by China’s housing crisis, and Hui, whose fortune is estimated at $45 billion, is trying to sell personal assets, including business jets.

Several people familiar with the situation said that the London property was also for sale, for all practical purposes, although there was no formal offer.

“There’s a price for everything,” said a person involved in the 2020 purchase of the property, who is in regular contact with the current owners.

Another person close to the owners said, “It’s very difficult to put a price on it; it’s like a work of art or a diamond. If someone really wants to buy the house, they’ll pay what they have to.”

The property was acquired in the early 1980s by the Yunak Corporation, then led by Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, and presented to the Saudi Crown Prince after Hariri’s assassination in 2005. The property was first placed on the market seven years after Abdulaziz’s death.

Beauchamp Estates, which managed the 2020 sale, is likely to be appointed to lead any formal sale process, according to several people involved.

Potential buyers of the Rutland Gate home are likely to seek a steep discount off the 2020 price if Hui is the seller, said a Hong Kong property executive familiar with the matter.

“There are not that many buyers in this market, and all [nesses círculos] know that Evergrande is behind it”, said the executive.

While properties like Rutland Gate are only available to the very wealthy, a new owner will have to shoulder the cost of completing renovations to the 5,782-square-foot home.

There is a permit for works on the exterior and interior of the property, including the demolition and replacement of the two upper floors, but the works have not yet been completed. A website about the property mentions CC Land UK as the development manager for the project.

CC Land said it was connected to the property but does not own it. Evergrande and Hui did not respond to a request for comment.

The shutters were closed on all 58 of the building’s windows overlooking Hyde Park when the Financial Times visited this week.

Translated by Paulo Migliacci

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