Hong Kong legal fight heating up over Mugabe luxury villa in New Territories

Zimbabwe government says Tai Po home that housed first daughter belongs to it, while businessman who procured it argues it is his

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015, 6:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015, 6:24am

The legal battle between the government of Zimbabwe and a businessman from South Africa for ownership of a Tai Po luxury home in the New Territories will begin in earnest next month.

The three-storey house in question, an upmarket villa at JC Castle along Shan Tong Road, was reportedly bought through a Taiwanese-born South African citizen named Hsieh Ping-sung for HK$40 million in June 2008.

Media reports suggested the house was bought months before Bona Mugabe, the daughter of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe began studies at the University of Hong Kong.

British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported that the Mugabes claimed the villa belonged to the Zimbabwe government and their daughter had been "borrowing" it, but that has now been challenged by Hsieh, also known as Jack Ping, a businessman who used to be one of the Mugabes' closest friends and advisers. He claims the house belonged to him all along.

The Zimbabwean government, led by President Mugabe, is suing Hsieh and his property company, Cross Global.

The case is due to go to mediation in Hong Kong on Friday, The Telegraph reported. If the parties can't come to an agreement outside of court, the High Court is scheduled to hear the case on June 11, according to a filing.

The Zimbabwean government wants the court to declare that it is the "100 per cent beneficial" owner of the villa bought by Cross Global about seven years ago. It says Cross Global only held it on trust, and it wants the court to order the company and Hsieh to transfer the property to it.

Hsieh was the sole shareholder of Cross Global in 2010, Companies Registry filings show. On January 29 of that year, Cross Global sold the house to Hsieh for HK$40 million - the same price at which it bought the house in 2008 - Land Registry records show.

The Zimbabwean government wants the court to void the 2010 transfer of the property between Cross Global and Hsieh. Filings show Hsieh transferred all his shares in Cross Global to Johan Carel Nel, a South African national, on June 29, 2010.

The case is expected to shed light on the long relationship between Hsieh and Zimbabwe first lady Grace Mugabe. The Telegraph quoted documents within Zimbabwe's mines ministry as saying the duo were jointly connected to several failed platinum and gold mining ventures in Zimbabwe several years ago.

Johannesburg solicitor Mannie Witz, who is representing Hsieh, will be in Hong Kong for the mediation, which was rescheduled from Monday at the Zimbabwe government's request, according to the report.

He was quoted as saying that Hsieh "was very close to the first family. He did a lot for them over the years."

As of press time, Witz had not replied to an email enquiring about the case and whether Hsieh would take further action.

Mugabe led resistance to white minority rule in the country formerly known as Rhodesia and has led the country since 1980. He has faced growing condemnation in recent years for his record on the economy, human rights and democracy.