Jason Perry’s reputation for non-delivery took another huge leap forward today with the news that a senior figure involved with the Chinese property company that owns the landmark Nestlé Tower in the town centre is wanted in the United States over allegations of paying back-handers to local government officials to obtain permits for a construction project.
Only last week, Croydon’s part-time but very self-important Mayor was briefing that he was going to Get! Something! Done! about the stalled £500million development of the Nestlé Tower and the surrounding “Queen’s Quarter”.
“I very much want to get that moving,” Perry said, self-importantly.
“I am hopeful that they are coming in for a meeting soon to find out what they are doing.”
“They” are the Chinese developer Guangzhou R&F Properties Co Ltd, but the chances of anyone from R&F coming in to Croydon Town Hall for a friendly little chat over a cup of tea in the Mayor’s Parlour with Perry seems diminishingly small.
Zhang Li, the billionaire chief exec of R&F, is effectively under house arrest after paying a £15million bail bond following a court session in London yesterday, where it was heard that a provisional warrant issued in the Northern District of California accuses him of participating in a scheme to bribe public officials in San Francisco.
R&F issued a statement overnight saying that the company would be fighting this “false accusation”.
A lawyer for US prosecutors told Westminster Magistrates’ Court that the scheme involved the payment of bribes to officials for the benefit of an R&F-associated company, Z&L Properties Inc, which is based in the US and owned by Zhang.
The news of Zhang’s court case saw 13per cent of the value wiped off R&F’s share price on the Hong Kong stockmarket overnight.
Until around three years ago, Zhang’s company was one of a handful of acquisitive “Chinese Tiger” developers with multi-billion property interests around the globe. But with the crash in the Chinese economy in 2020, linked to the covid pandemic, their various schemes – including in Croydon – all came to a grinding halt.
R&F, based near Hong Kong, acquired its Croydon properties – the Nestlé Tower, St George’s Walk beneath it and the neighbouring Grade II-listed Segas House – in a £60million deal in March 2017.
The Nestlé Tower has been standing vacant since the eponymous confectionary company quit Croydon (in a huff with the Tory-run council) in 2012.
R&F’s plans, all approved by officials in Croydon Council’s planning department, proposed three tower blocks across the site. Work on a £500million Queen’s Square project got underway in 2019, with the beginning of the repurposing of the 22-storey Nestlé office block into 288 private flats. But that all stopped in 2020, with the scaffolding erected remaining in place around the block ever since.
In 2021, R&F was reported in China as struggling to meet the Beijing government’s rules to reduce developers’ debt. Twelve months ago, a statement from the company said, “We remain committed to the borough, and are reviewing timelines for construction as our well-established vision for creating world-class regeneration and long-lasting investment opportunity in the area gets underway.”
Since when, nothing has happened.
Zhang, 69, is reported by Forbes magazine as being worth $2.3billion.
In court yesterday, Judge John Zani granted bail and imposed a 24-hour curfew on Zhang. The judge also said Zhang must be handcuffed to a member of his court-appointed private security team when he left his house for the purposes of attending court.
Presumably, the same conditions might be required if Zhang is ever to come to Croydon for tea with Mayor Perry…
The Croydon Sadvertiser last week reported cheerily that the project was to get right back on track. It quoted unnamed sources as saying that R&F was about to have talks with the Mayor over the Queen’s Quarter project.
It all turns out to be Chinese whispers, with the only person named in the article in the little-read organ being the £81,000 per year Mayor himself.
He said: “I don’t like that we have that site stalled – I very much want to get that moving and get some investment in that site. We have heard that R&F have had difficulties elsewhere, I am hopeful that they are coming in for a meeting soon to find out what they are doing.”
Zhang’s extradition case and the lack of progress over the prestigious town centre site is just the latest example of Tory Perry’s impotency. Election promises to re-open Purley Pool and the announcement that he was bringing an interactive arts experience into the old Allders building have both so far failed to deliver, while the town centre continues to fester thanks to the inaction over the Westfield project that was instigated by Perry’s Tory chums Gavin Barwell and Boris Johnson.
Perry has proved more successful, however, in getting a healthy school street stopped from being implemented on a road parallel to his £1.3million house close to Lloyd Park.
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