Hong Kong-based billionaire Kok Lam feared dead in French helicopter crash

River search for billionaire Kok Lam and two others after 12-year-old son killed as they flew over Bordeaux vineyard to view new purchase

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 11:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 December, 2013, 11:27am

A billionaire Chinese businessman is missing presumed dead and his 12-year-old son confirmed to have died in a helicopter crash in France's Bordeaux wine region - just 24 hours after they celebrated the €30 million (HK$318 million) purchase of a chateau and vineyard.

A search was continuing last night for Hong Kong-based mainland tycoon Kok Lam, 46. He is thought to have died along with the former owner of the Chateau de la Riviere vineyard, James Gregoire, who was at the helicopter's controls when it crashed into the Dordogne River on Friday night.

The body of Kok's young son was pulled from the river on Friday. An interpreter who was on board is also missing presumed dead.

Hours earlier, Kok and his wife Lau Sheng-wan - also known by her Putonghua name Liu Xiang-yan - were pictured toasting their purchase of the vineyard with Gregoire and his wife. Lau reportedly decided at the last minute not to fly as she is afraid of helicopters.

The tragedy was given even greater poignancy when it emerged that a previous owner of the sprawling 65-hectare estate - the largest in Bordeaux's Fronsac wine-producing region - died in a plane crash in 2002.

Kok heads the Hong Kong-based Brilliant Group and is a member of the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Kok's purchase of the chateau is believed to be the largest Chinese investment in Bordeaux, the famous wine-producing region in southeastern France, and forms part of a growing trend of mainland money pouring into French wineries.

The flight was to mark the sale that had been finalised on Thursday, with Gregoire wanting to show Kok and his son the vineyard from the air. But the helicopter did not return.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in France said consular staff had been sent to the scene. Family members had been contacted and it had set up a 24-hour hotline with the French foreign ministry. In Hong Kong, immigration officials confirmed they were in contact with their relevant counterparts.

Kok's company, registered as Pakluen International Ltd in Hong Kong in 1994, specialises in rare teas and owns high-end luxury resorts in Chongqing, Kunming and Jingmai. On the mainland the company is called Brilliant Group with headquarters in Yunnan province.

In an interview in 2010, the media-shy couple signalled their interest in the wine industry. "I drink [wine], but not much," Kok told New Weekly magazine.

Additional reporting by Lana Lam and Jeffie Lam