Chinese whispers catch out part-time Perry over Nestlé Tower

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.

Towering embarrassment: Mayor Perry claimed he is going to hold talks with the Chinese developers

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.

Bailed out: R&F CEO Zhang Li

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.

Scandal: How Al Jazeera was reporting the story today

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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8 Responses to Chinese whispers catch out part-time Perry over Nestlé Tower

  1. derekthrower says:

    So Part-Time was promising action on the Nestle Graveyard project. He must have got the wrong end of the stick when he was heard this developer was approaching Local Government Officials with offers they couldn’t refuse.

  2. Jim Bush says:

    Hows long is the list of failed or disastrous projects in Croydon?

    There is the derelict Nestle building, the never-going-to-be-built Westfield shopping centre, the Brick by Brick and Fairfield Halls scandals, the previously failed Park Place shopping centre development, there was the ill-fated Water Palace in Purley Way in the 1980s, and going back to the 19th century, the Croydon Canal and the short-lived Central Croydon station…….plus many others?!

  3. Peter Underwood says:

    Unfortunately Mayor Perry still seems to think that huge international businesses care about him and care about Croydon.

    The role of the local council isn’t to wine and dine billionaires and convince them to ‘save Croydon’. Councils exist to protect our rights and defend us from businesses that would exploit Croydon just to make a profit. The Council also has a role in protecting local small businesses from being trampled on by these large corporations that just want to bully them or drive them out of business.

    Instead of cosying up to these developers the Mayor should be using the powers he has to force them to get on with what was agreed or, even better, working on a new plan that is based around what Croydon needs not just what developers want.

    We have suffered too long from a Council that bends over backwards to help anyone with money. It’s about time we had a Council that stood up for residents.

    • Sarah Bird says:

      Totally agree with Peter Underwood . I would also like to see accountability from the council and the Mayor over all aspects of the Council. Enough is enough of the bullying and ineptitude at all levels. of the council as i have endured and so have many residents

    • Susan Pearson says:

      Can somone pass this message on to Heather Cheesbrough? She might have lost her way….

    • Ian Kierans says:

      And was that not what we elected 70 Councillors to do on our behalf? How come so many are silent?

  4. David Bryce says:

    A Section 106 is a bribe under any other name.

    I’ve been involved in a project in Glasgow where the developer bought cars for the wives of the senior planners. Now, the common bribe is travel – hotel and flight vouchers – much harder to trace.

    But everyone is being a bit innocent if they think this doesn’t go on all the time.

    There is no point bribing Heather Cheesbrough or her staff as she gives developers what they want anyway.

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    R&F are in a bit of a mess. This is due in part to the Chinese Economy being tanked by the pandemic, but also many of their acquisitions also being moribund due to the downward spiral of the global economies on their business overseas (from China). The Chinese Government issued instructions to ”sort” out overseas debt exposure and that created a perfect storm for them. However in August Sidley Austin (based in London)restructured $4.9bn of that debt. This gave them time (4 years) to try to meet a number (10) of Bonds but at the later date and at $5.1bn.
    Crudely they have to hope economies pick up in those locations to regain capital and income and be able to pay those debts (and sell London One). For that to happen does require those areas they are in to be recovering or at least is having regeneration and inward investment. That is not Perry’s Croydon!

    So how does Mr Perry and this ”Improvement Board” expect R&F to greet every cut and minimalist service administration?

    So assuming that the Mayor was not seeking dinner or flogging his plastic to them what was he hoping for? Appreciate he may have the thought of lets contact them and see what is happening but unless there is movement or real progress why say something that is not fully frank and factual?

    California are saying they are involved in bribing Public Officials? Sounds like a Californian issue. Are not a few companies so charged in Northern California?
    Chinese Companies have long been into their ”Belt and Braces” projects Worldwide and this, to them, means investing in those areas education infrastructure and taking people to China to educate them in their Universities etc. What it also means is taking some of their exports which are not cheap but not as advanced or reliable as some competitors and their companies exploiting the area to its maximum to fuel the Chinese economy. But again not Croydon Mr Perry is it? Slim pickings here mate Between the Conservatives central and local and Labour just local you lot have picked the bones and sucked the marrow totally out of that carcass and are flogging of the bones for poverty soup!.

    One thing to take on board from this article is that it is not the payers of the bribes that are corrupt – they are just breaking a law if one exists or anyone can be bothered to enforce it (Again not Croydon is it?).
    It is those that are in public positions of trust that seek personal gain and accept said gratuities that are the corrupt. Especially when they bleat on spuriously and disingenuously about the public interest in doing so! Does that sound like Croydon? Maybe? Or not yet? Or no we do not do those sort of things like missplace a few hundred million do we?

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