Mega-rich developer Zhang Li, accused of buttering up Mohammed Nuru with a $2,000 bottle of wine and luxury trips, was arrested in London and is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for bribery.
Yes, it takes forever to get building permits in San Francisco, as we saw with the 555 Fulton project that will eventually include a Trader Joe’s, hopefully in early 2023. But in the case of 555 Fulton, a lot of that red tape and procedural complication sprang from a slew of fraud, bribery, and money laundering charges resulting in 14 subpoenas, as that particular property was the center of the Mohammed Nuru bribery scandal. A billionaire international real estate mogul whom the FBI described as “Developer 1” allegedly bribed Nuru with, among other things, a $2,000 bottle of wine, a tractor, and international trips and fancy hotel accommodations. Nuru himself has pleaded guilty to all this, and has been sentenced to seven years in prison.
And in the time since, we’ve learned that “Developer 1” is Chinese real estate tycoon Zhang Li, whom Forbes lists as having a $2.3 billion net worth. Reuters reported Monday that Li has been charged on the Nuru bribery counts in a London court, and Bloomberg reported he was arrested on those charges in London, in an arrest that apparently happened November 30, though we are just learning of it this week.
As Reuters explains, Li is out on a bail of 15 million pounds, or roughly $18.4 million. But Li is not a free man. Bloomberg added in a Wednesday update that Li is confined to his own luxury apartment tower, with the Chronicle adding that “Li must be handcuffed to a member of the court-appointed private security team when leaving his house for the purposes of attending court.”
This is a little complex, but Li is the co-founder of R&F Properties, one of the largest developers in Guangzhou. The U.S. entity Z&L Properties, which Li owns outright, is the developer of 555 Fulton. Nonetheless, this is also a bad look for the Chinese mega-developer R&F Properties.
Mission Local has a statement from R&F Properties, posted to WeChat, saying, “Zhang Li was accused of bribery for hosting a banquet in China and providing hotel accommodation for the former San Francisco Public Works Director. We are taking legal action against this false accusation.” (The translation of that statement differs on various English-language news sources).
Nonetheless… Is Li the big fish the feds were ultimately after here? He is certainly the wealthiest person charged yet in the Nuru affair. Obviously, many of us in the peanut gallery speculated that, ummm, certain current or former San Francisco mayors might be ensnared as well. That has not happened, nearly three years into the Nuru scandal. And it might seem anti-climactic to us if the big fish is a Chinese developer we’d never heard of.
But Li’s arrest, and likely extradition and trial, will certainly have significant business implications around the globe.
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