Real reason Hong Kong's Richard Lee met Berlusconi? Culture

Contrary to reports in Italy linking ex-Ferrari importer to a Chinese takeover of soccer club AC Milan, sources say pair discussed future of a Berlusconi property and his university plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 2:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 3:12pm

Former Hong Kong Ferrari dealer Richard Lee Man-fai’s meeting with Silvio Berlusconi in Italy last week had nothing to do with a takeover of European football giants AC Milan. Lee met the former Italian prime minister and businessman to discuss a cultural project, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Sources told Ansa that the pair chatted about the future of Berlusconi’s 18th-century Villa Gernetto, outside Milan, which he wants to transform into a “university of liberal thought”. Their talks focused specifically on the possible inclusion of a cultural project headed by Lee on the theme of the old Silk Road trading route between Europe and China, Ansa reported.

It is not known who raised the idea of the Silk Road project, but Berlusconi has been toying with his university plan for almost a decade.

Lee was reported last week to be heading a Chinese consortium that was close to buying Berlusconi’s 75 per cent share in the seven-times European Cup winners for up to €1.5 billion (HK$12.67 billion). A friend of Lee’s told the South China Morning Post the businessman would have had easy access to Berlusconi through former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemelo, who had been a friend of Lee’s for two decades.

The plush Villa Gernetto was bought by Berlusconi in 2010 and is surrounded by a 30-hectare park. Previous owners – including Mellerio Giambattista, a vice-president of the former kingdom of Lombardy – had enlarged the original property. In 2012, the villa was valued at €380 million.

The friend of Lee’s told the Post last week that the businessman, who sold Ferrari and Maserati sports cars in China through his former company Auto Italia for more than 20 years, spends a “tremendous amount of time” in Italy. Lee was awarded the Commander of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity in 2006 for his contribution to Italian business.

Lee was unavailable for comment yesterday.