The law has finally caught up with Zhang Li, the billionaire co-founder of the largest Chinese property development company. R&F Properties Co. Ltd. through its U.S. partner organization Z&L Properties, bought up swaths of land and real estate in the United States, much of it in California.
Its U.S. affiliate, Z&L Properties, went on a buying spree in 2014 and 2015. It acquired land in San Francisco, Fremont, Santa Clara, San Jose and Los Angeles, where it planned to build a total of 3,400 housing units.
On November 30, Li was arrested in London and placed under house arrest pending extradition proceedings back to the United States.
The South China Morning Post states:
The billionaire co-founder of Chinese property developer Guangzhou R&F Properties Co. Ltd., Zhang Li, is wanted in the US over allegations he provided kickbacks to secure contracts in California.
Zhang, a former government official who rose to lead one of China’s largest real estate firms, was arrested on November 30 by London police and is facing extradition proceedings. He is contesting his transfer to the US.
Judge John Zani granted bail of £15 million (US$18.4 million) on Monday at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the joint highest sum ever recorded for the UK courts.
He will be confined 24 hours a day in an apartment on the 43rd floor of a London tower, monitored by security and CCTV.
The 69-year old Zhang is alleged to have “provided kickbacks and funds to co-conspirators in order to obtain the appropriate permits for a construction project”, according to a court listing.
R&F did business in the US through a domestic affiliate. Among other projects, the company was responsible for a large, multi million-dollar mixed-use residential and commercial development project in San Francisco, the listing says.
The point person who allegedly helped smooth the path to these permits? None other than former San Francisco Public Works Chief Mohammed Nuru. Ironically, Nuru’s Twitter handle is @MrCleanSF, but Nuru himself is anything but. Back in 2020, our Managing Editor Jennifer Van Laar covered Nuru’s indictment.
The man responsible for keeping the streets of San Francisco clean (who’s obviously a miserable failure) was arrested by the FBI Monday afternoon on charges relating to bribery/kickback schemes. Mohammed Nuru, a Willie Brown protege, is the city’s Public Works Director. He first became an executive in the department in 2000 and was appointed Director by Mayor Ed Lee in 2011.
In an indictment unsealed Tuesday afternoon, federal prosecutors allege that Nuru and Lefty O’Doul’s owner Nick Bovis engaged in a scheme to bribe a San Francisco International Airport commissioner to help Bovis obtain an airport restaurant license. That scheme failed when the commissioner said she didn’t need the money, but the scheme doesn’t have to be complete for the men to be found guilty of the crime they’re charged with, honest services wire fraud.
Nuru also allegedly rigged bids to push contracts for homeless porta-potties and “container shelters” to Bovis, and helped a “billionaire Chinese developer” working on a mixed-use project get the project completed in exchange for a vacation trip to China and a $2,070 bottle of wine.
Here is where Zhang Li first came on the radar, through the FBI investigation into Nuru. Nuru was convicted in August of 2022 to seven years in prison, a $35,000 fine, and was forced to forfeit his 20-acre ranch and custom home in Stonybrook, California. In the midst of the trial, Nuru’s connections to Zhang Li and R&F Properties Co. Ltd were uncovered, as the Mission Local reported:
In the latest salvo stemming from the FBI’s arrest of ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru, City Attorney Dennis Herrera today disseminated 14 subpoenas. They target entities tied to the stalled 555 Fulton mixed-use project — which Nuru allegedly attempted to aid behind the scenes, in exchange for gifts lavished on him by the building’s Chinese billionaire developer.
The subpoenas targeted six companies associated with that developer, Zhang Li. Walter Wong, the deeply connected San Francisco permit expediter who handled permitting issues for 555 Fulton, was subpoenaed individually; four businesses housed in a building he owns at 205 13th St. were also subpoenaed today.
Nuru already had a long history of corruption as he climbed the ladder of San Francisco’s government. Nuru was also in a 20-year relationship with current San Francisco Mayor London Breed. The San Francisco Cabal apparently continues, unchecked.
R&F Properties provided bail for Li and said it planned to fight extradition:
Hong Kong-listed R&F Properties, which is providing £10 million of the bail, said on its official WeChat account that it planned to fight what it called “false allegations” that Zhang was charged with bribery “for hosting a dinner in China for a former public affairs executive in San Francisco and providing him with hotel accommodation”.
He will be housed in a five-bedroom apartment, complete with former military operatives on guard in 12-hour shifts.
According to the security manager, the security and tight setup is meant to closely replicate the standards used for a prisoner on remand. This is a costly endeavor, so, it seems the U.S. may have more on Li than his connection to Nuru.