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HomeBusinessExclusive: You can be Meng Wanzhou’s neighbour, for a price

Exclusive: You can be Meng Wanzhou’s neighbour, for a price


Bob Mackin

Want to become the next-door neighbour of the world’s most-famous telecom executive?

The 16,350 square foot lot at 1625 Matthews Avenue in Vancouver’s luxurious First Shaughnessy can be all yours. Time is running out to cut a deal and move in before Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou finally calls 1603 Matthews her home this weekend.

Property neighbouring Meng Wanzhou’s Shaughnessy mansion is for sale (Mackin)

But don’t despair. Whenever you arrive, the daughter of the billionaire founder of China’s biggest state-approved multinational might offer you a free pizza. Heck, she could be there for years, living on an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, as her lawyers try to keep her out of the United States, where federal authorities want to try her on fraud charges.

There are a couple of catches.

The real estate agent is now asking $12.38 million for the property, which was assessed for $9.44 million last year.

Chin up, it is now a buyer’s market.

The existing two-storey, five-bedroom white mansion with an indoor pool is boarded up and a burgundy Toyota Corolla VE without licence plates is parked on the unkept lawn. You could always pitch a tent for the time being or build a shelter from a pile of wood.

“Already have building plans for a 9,000 sq. foot home,” describes Royal Pacific real estate agent Winnie Chung’s website. “Still waiting for development permit approval. The property will be sold as is, where is.”

Since May 9, 2016, the example of mid-1970s faux Roman architecture has been in the name of self-described homemaker Jing Zhao.

A homemaker? Fancy that!

Peter German’s new Dirty Money investigation report on money laundering in B.C. real estate, released May 9, said that 3% of B.C. titles are held by persons whose occupation is listed as student, homemaker or unemployed.

“These tend to be expensive houses, with 88 houses over $10 million that are apparently owned by nominees,” German wrote. The coming beneficial ownership registry is supposed to unmask owners who would rather stay anonymous. 

Last-minute work to Meng Wanzhou’s Shaughnessy mansion on May 9 (Mackin)

The month of Jing Zhao’s transaction was also the month that Meng’s husband, the self-described investor and marketing developer Xiaozong Liu, bought 1603 Matthews. Meng’s name was not reported to the land title office. The property was mortgaged with HSBC, the same bank that the U.S. now accuses Meng of defrauding to overcome trade sanctions with Iran.

Meng — who also goes by Sabrina or Cathy — came to Vancouver 16 years ago and has a 10-year-old daughter with Liu. Documents submitted to a B.C. Supreme Court judge a day earlier, on May 8, said Meng is expected to move in to the Matthews mansion on May 11.

The chief executive of Lions Gate Risk Management, the security company appointed by the court to ensure Meng does not flee Canada, swore an April 29 affidavit in support of the move.

“Following our site visit, we have identified certain modifications to the Matthews Property that will facilitate meeting our duty to the court,” said Scot Filer’s sworn statement. “All these modifications can be completed by May 11, 2019, which we understand to be the proposed implementation date for Ms. Meng’s move to the Matthews property.”

Filer’s sworn statement said that there will be less disruption for neighbours of the gated $13.3 million Shaughnessy mansion than the $5 million house in Dunbar, owned in Liu’s name since October 2009.

The Dunbar house is on the northwest corner of Crown and 28th, exposed on three sides, with no gate or large trees. The backyard is fenced, however. On Matthews, “there are gates which will better enable Lions Gate to control access onto the property and egress from it,” Filer swore.

Meng Wanzhou leaves her Dunbar house on May 8.

“The Matthews property, unlike the 28th Avenue West property, has a clear distinction between public space and private space. Security staff inside the Matthews Property line will be away from direct contact with and questions from the public thereby improving their ability to do their jobs.”

Filer’s affidavit said that Meng has “strictly complied” with her bail conditions, including compliance with directions from Lions Gate employees.

Three years after buying, a move under unforeseen circumstances

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes’s bail variance sparked a flurry of activity the next day. The signs for Trasolini Construction and J&R Katz Design and Architecture remain near the sidewalk, but an I Move You company van was parked nearby. A handwritten note taped to the front door told contractors to enter through a side door. Workers could be seen inside the windows on the ground floor. A crew from G.K. Roofing arrived. Their names were checked against a list on a clipboard by a plainclothes security guard.

Three empty black SUVs for hire were parked in a row on the opposite side of the street to the west. The drivers talked amongst themselves around the corner. One of them took a break from their chat and was allowed to use the Sunrise Washroom Rental cart at the far end of Meng and Liu’s driveway.

Two other black Chevrolet SUVs came and went from the mansion. They briefly parked and five plainclothes security guards huddled, shook hands and moved items from one trunk to another. Two of them looked as if they were not pleased to see a photographer on the sidewalk across the street, but they otherwise went about their business.

Filer’s affidavit makes no mention of the media, but some reporters from Bloomberg and South China Morning Post have complained in print of intimidation by his staff. Security officers in B.C. must be provincially licensed and are regulated by provincial law.

While Meng was not seen during the time observed, Meng’s husband, Liu, did come and go in a silver Lexus GX460. 

A May 11 moving day would mark five months to the day since she was freed on $10 million bail after her Dec. 1, 2018 arrest at Vancouver International Airport on a stop between Hong Kong and Mexico. She spent a week-and-a-half in a women’s jail in Maple Ridge.

Meng wears a GPS monitor on her left ankle and is restricted to traveling within City of Vancouver and parts of Richmond and the North Shore. She cannot go near the airport. She is under 24-hour watch of Lions Gate and her next court date is Sept. 23 for a hearing where her four lawyers and one for the Attorney General of Canada will argue over evidence disclosure. No date has been set for the actual extradition hearing, but her lawyers want the extradition case stayed before it can be heard. They accuse Canadian police and border guards and President Donald Trump of abuse of process. 

May 11 is also five months since the world learned about the arrest of Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave. Chinese police nabbed Kovrig a day earlier in Beijing, in a move widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng. Another Canadian Michael, businessman Spavor, was also arrested. While Meng is free to go shopping or a walk in a park, neither Spavor nor Kovrig have been allowed to see relatives, cannot turn off the lights at night or see sunshine in daytime and are subject to hours of daily interrogation.

If you have more than $12 million to become their next-door neighbour, do introduce yourself to the folks in the mansion near the east end of the block. Maybe they would even invite you to their 4th of July Party.

The former William Shelly mansion is the official residence of the United States Consul General since 1946. The distance between the two properties is roughly half the length of a football field, an unofficial American form of measurement.

When sought the official reaction of Consul Gen. Katherine Dhanani to Uncle Sam’s intriguing new neighbour, public affairs advisor Glenda Wallace Ainsworth said the consulate had no comment.

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