Govt in court over Grace’s Hong Kong villa

LONDON - The cash-strapped Zimbabwean government is to fight a potentially embarrassing legal case in Hong Kong over a £4 million luxury villa said to be one of the favourite properties of the first lady, Grace Mugabe.

The house has already proved controversial, after Bona Mugabe, the daughter of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, and his wife was found to be living there while studying in Hong Kong.

Asked how they could afford the expensive property in the New Territories, the Mugabes claimed it belonged to the Zimbabwean government and their daughter had been “borrowing it”.

Mugabe has subsequently claimed the original purchase of the flat was part of a “secret government project”.

However, that has now been challenged by a businessman who used to be one of the Mugabes’ closest friends and advisers, who claims the house has always belonged to him. Hsieh Ping Sung, a Taiwanese-born South African citizen now known as Jack Ping, claims he bought it before leasing it to the Zimbabwean government.

Expensive lawyers from Hong Kong and South Africa have been hired for the dispute, which is due to go to mediation this week. In a case likely to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, the Zimbabwean government claims it is the true owner of the property, but has failed so far to provide a receipt.

It says it paid cash as it was a “secret project”. The case threatens to shed light on the long relationship between Ping and Mrs Mugabe. They were jointly connected to a number of failed platinum and gold-mining ventures in Zimbabwe several years ago, according to documents in the country’s mines ministry.

Ping also introduced Mugabe to medical specialists in Malaysia and Singapore who have conducted prostate and eye surgery on him several times. Mugabe continues to visit Singapore for medical check-ups every few months.

At the height of the family friendship eight years ago, Ping financed the construction of about two dozen cottages for Mrs Mugabe on land she took from white farmers about 24km west of Harare, and which formed the basis of her orphanage.

Ping also advised the Mugabes on sending their daughter to study in Hong Kong. She fled the house after it was burgled and never returned. After that, it was occupied by Zimbabwe’s consul to Hong Kong, but Ping says he received only one month’s rent and the 111 sqm property is now believed to be empty.

The Johannesburg solicitor Mannie Witz is representing Ping and will fly to Hong Kong for the mediation, due to begin on Friday, delayed from today at the Zimbabwean government’s request.

The government first claimed the flat at Christmas in 2013. After many postponements, a mutually agreed mediator was set to hear argument today. “Zimbabwe now even wants a further delay to that date,” Witz said. “So I am going to see what can be done to bring an end to this.” – The Telegraph

Post published in: Business

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *