HK billionaire sets double record


Hong Kong: Pure coincidence or impeccable timing? Either way, Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau has just pulled off a twofer for the history books.

On Wednesday night he paid US$48.4mil (RM213mil) at Sotheby’s in Geneva for a 12.03-carat blue diamond, the most ever spent on a gem at auction.

Then, less than 24 hours later, his company Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd sold an office tower in Hong Kong for US$1.6bil (RM7bil), more than double the previous record for a commercial sale.

Lau, 64, who made his fortune in real estate, has been on a buying spree, collecting paintings from blue-chip artists as well as jewellery. He also generated headlines last year when he was convicted in Macau for bribery and money laundering in a trial he did not attend. He is appealing the conviction.

Lau’s company sold the 26-storey Mass Mutual Tower in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district to Chinese developer Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd.

Chinese Estates paid HK$460mil (RM260mil) for the tower when it bought part of it in 1987 and the rest in 1991, yielding a 27-fold return.

Hours after the deal was announced, China Life Insurance Co said in a press statement that it was buying an office tower and retail space from Wheelock & Co for HK$5.85bil (RM3.3bil), making it the second-most expensive building purchase in Hong Kong.

It was the third property sale to Evergrande by Chinese Estates this year, Chinese Estates spokesman Eunice Yeung said.

In July, it sold a residential, commercial and hotel complex in the western Chinese city of Chengdu for HK$6.5bil (RM3.67bil).

The company sold another property in nearby Chongqing for a total of HK$1.75bil (RM989mil).

The previous most-expensive transaction for an office tower in Hong Kong was the HK$5.4bil (RM3bil) paid by Citigroup Inc to a unit of Wheelock last year.

On May 12, Lau picked up Roy Lichtenstein’s painting The Ring (Engagement) at Sotheby's New York auction for US$41.7mil (RM183.4mil), just a day after purchasing Pablo Picasso’s Buste de femme at Christie’s for US$67.4mil (RM296.5mil).

Unlike Liu Yiqian, a Chinese billionaire collector who this week bought an Amedeo Modigliani nude for US$170.4mil (RM749.7mil) million and pays for his purchases using his card, Lau wired the money to the two auction houses in New York, according to copies of receipts obtained by Bloomberg.

Lau’s blue diamond purchase on Nov 11 came a day after he paid 28.7 million Swiss francs (RM125.6mil) for a 16.08-carat pink diamond at a sale by Christie’s in Geneva. Both purchases were made for his daughter Josephine, seven, his office said.

Known as the “Blue Moon”, the record-breaking gem had a pre-sale estimate of 34.2 million francs (RM149.7mil) to 53.7 million francs (RM235mil), according to Sotheby’s website, and has the highest possible colour grade of fancy vivid blue.

Lau renamed it “The Blue Moon of Josephine” and christened the pink diamond “Sweet Josephine”.

Last year, Lau bought pieces of jewellery for another daughter, 13-year-old Zoe – the 9.75-carat “Zoe Diamond” for US$32.6mil (RM143.4mil) at Sotheby’s New York, and the “Zoe Red” ruby for HK$65mil (RM36.7mil) at Christie’s Hong Kong. — Bloomberg

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