Extradition to US Requested Over San-Francisco Bribery Case
Li Zhang, a Chinese billionaire who is cofounder and CEO of Guangzhou R&F Properties, was arrested in London on Nov. 30 under a provisional warrant issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Northern California District.
Zhang, 69, is worth $2.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He was granted bail under 15 million pounds (approximately $18.4 million) ahead of a legal battle against extradition to the United States. He did not show up at a Dec. 12 hearing.
As part of his bail conditions, Zhang will be confined to an apartment 24 hours a day and subject to CCTV and security monitoring by a London investigation and security risk firm. He will be handcuffed to a representative of the security firm when he leaves the apartment to attend court hearings, according to South China Morning Post.
Extradition to US for Hosting a Dinner
Guangzhou R&F Properties issued an announcement in its official WeChat channel, stating: “Li Zhang was accused of bribery for hosting a banquet in China and providing hotel accommodation for the former San Francisco Public Works Director.”
This was the first time R&F Properties responded on the alleged bribery accusation against Zhang. The announcement confirms that the person called “DEVELOPER 1” in the corruption case of Mohammed Nuru, the former San Francisco Public Works Director, is Zhang.
In December 2021, Nuru pleaded guilty to the charge of honest services wire fraud, including a string of briberies and corruption during his years in office, and was sentenced to seven years by U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick in August 2022.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of California, Nuru admitted in the plea agreement that he “received free travel, gifts, and benefits, for working with Walter Wong to use Nuru’s official position to benefit a billionaire developer from China.”
US Investigators Tapped Calls
Zhang (referred to as “DEVELOPER 1”) first surfaced in the FBI investigation into the Nuru case in the fall of 2018, when Nuru was talking on his cell phone about his then-upcoming trip to China, according to the affidavit of FBI agent James A. Folger.
On a phone call with his girlfriend, official Sandra Zuniga, in November 2018, Nuru described how he was flattered by a luxury hotel: “We get there, they take us to our rooms and everything, and everybody’s in their room, and then as soon as I come out, they’re like still outside our room. I’m like, ‘Oh man, what’s going on?’”
Nuru also said in the phone call that he did not realize how rich Zhang is before this trip to China.
He said in the call: “I’m helping him with a project here, San Francisco. So whenever he comes, I always go to see him. I didn’t know … he has this plane; I didn’t know that, how big he was, until I got to China.”
The project Nuru mentioned is 555 Fulton Street in San Francisco, developed by R&F’s U.S. affiliate Z&L Properties Inc., which was referred to in the complaints against Nuru as “Multimillion-Dollar Mixed-Use Development.” Wong was working as a consultant of that project.
On the same phone call with Zuniga, Nuru said, “He [Zhang] had a whole list of things that we need to get done.”
Nuru also mentioned that the project couldn’t get a certificate due to a possible defect in the glass windows made in Mexico.
He added, “Yup, and he’s very upset about [it] because he’s, you know, he thinks he’s lost, he’s spent so much money and … can’t see the end of the tunnel.”
The glass issue was mentioned by one of Nuru’s employees when Nuru was in China in 2018. In a phone call, Nuru directed one of his managers to solve the problem and expedite the process.
Developer Redesigned Building Without Permission
According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2019, 555 Fulton St. was in the “finalizing construction” stage after a massive delay. More than one year of the delay was caused by the developer redesigning the building’s exterior without city permission. The builder was forced to go back to the approved yet more expensive design, which had a glass exterior.
Tom Hui, former director of the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), who went to dinner with Zhang and Wong in February 2019, stepped down in March 2020 following internal investigations by then City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
It was not clear whether Hui helped with the 555 Fulton Street project’s permit. In early 2020, after Nuru was arrested and indicted, the FBI raided the DBI’s server room, according to Mission Local. Hui was not charged with any federal crimes.