China conservationist Li Quan and husband 'abused tiger charity cash'

Conservationist from China wants more out of her divorce, saying her husband tricked her into thinking donations were theirs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 10:07pm

A Chinese conservationist and her American banker husband set up an animal charity to save Chinese tigers - and then used donations to fund their luxury lifestyle, a divorce court in London has heard.

Li Quan claimed money collected for Save China's Tigers - which counts Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan as an "ambassador" - was used by her and her estranged husband, Stuart Bray, to pay for their extravagant tastes.

The details of how the charity was used as a personal account were described by Li to the High Court during what has become a bitter feud over the couple's immense wealth.

I did not regard it as fraud … my husband told me it was one and the same

Li claims she is entitled to more of the couple's reported £50 million assets than Bray is prepared to give her following the breakdown of their marriage.

She claims the fortune acquired during their relationship was put into the Mauritius-based Chinese Tiger South Africa Trust fund set up by Bray.

The trust paid for the start-up of the charity founded by Li in 2000. She says her husband used it as a tax structure to cheat her out of her share of their wealth.

She claimed to the court he had access to the trust via a "back door" and that the charity funded their personal expenditure.

"We were using the money to fund our personal things," she told Mr Justice Paul Coleridge, according to media reports.

"We had expensive dinners. We had expensive wine."

She said Bray had told her "repeatedly over the years" not to make a distinction between the "charities, the trust and the companies" because they are "one and the same".

"That is what he told me all the time," she said.

"I did not regard it as fraud because my husband told me it was one and the same. I am not a financial person. I am not an accountant," the court heard.

However, Coleridge said to Li during the hearing her evidence suggested she and Bray were defrauding the charity "on a grand and big scale".

"It was incredibly dishonest," the judge said.

Li said she tried to ensure donations were spent on charitable projects. She said the couple used trusts to store their own assets.

Bray - who has yet to give evidence - told journalists he will claim Li is not telling the truth.

Li, 50, is a former executive with the fashion house Gucci.

Save China's Tigers has offices and staff in London, Hong Kong and Beijing plus a wildlife reserve in South Africa.

The charity, which has close ties with China's conservation authorities, has been backed by celebrities such as Chan, actress Michelle Yeoh, film director Chen Kaige, businessman David Tang, TV presenter Coco Jiang Yi and pianist Lang Lang.

Li told the court: "I asked him [Bray] at the time, 'do you do anything illegal?' He said 'no'."

She said her husband "had me removed" from the board of Save China's Tigers. And she told the judge: "I had no power."

Li is being represented by lawyer Ayesha Vardag, dubbed "the diva of divorce" cases.

Coleridge stated at the start of the trial he would make an order to freeze nearly all the assets in the Chinese Tiger South Africa Trust, and he ruled that the trust should be joined as "a party to the proceedings".

He also said he suspected that Bray had used an offshore tax haven and put in place other "structures to keep the revenues of the Western world behind a smoke screen".

The charity's website details how Bray acquired 81,544 acres of land in South Africa for a "rewilding programme" in 2002, called the Laohu Valley Reserve.

The first pair of Chinese tiger cubs arrived the following year and by 2011 the number of tigers at the sanctuary totalled 12.

Evidence is being given at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London - often referred to as the world's divorce capital.

But the judge has given permission for journalists to cover the case, which continues.