Court allows businessman's claim to get back US$9m from former mistress

Businessman Xu Zhigang bought a $3 million apartment at The Interlace for flight attendant Wang Fang as a birthday present.
Businessman Xu Zhigang bought a $3 million apartment at The Interlace for flight attendant Wang Fang as a birthday present.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A married businessman from China who was wooing a flight attendant bought her a $3 million apartment at The Interlace as a birthday present, and on the day she signed the purchase documents, told her to order a Mercedes-Benz of her choice.

After they began their affair, Mr Xu Zhigang transferred two sums totalling US$9.6 million (S$13 million) to Ms Wang Fang, in July 2014 and February 2015. Their relationship ended in November 2017.

Last year, Mr Xu sued his former mistress to get back the money, the apartment and the car, claiming that she was holding them on trust for him.

Ms Wang, who refused to return the assets, argued that they were gifts.

On Thursday (Nov 19), Mr Xu largely succeeded in his claim to get back the money, after the High Court allowed him to recover about US$9.4 million from Ms Wang.

In a written judgment, Justice Audrey Lim accepted Mr Xu's explanation that the sums of money were moved to Ms Wang for temporary safekeeping, as his companies in China were facing financial difficulties at the time.

However, the judge dismissed Mr Xu's claims on the apartment and the car, which she concluded were intended to be gifts.

Mr Xu, who is in his 40s, used to be, but is no longer, the main shareholder of Eastport Petrochemical (Singapore).

He first met Ms Wang on a flight in 2011, and after they reconnected in September 2013, the pair kept in frequent contact.

Even before they began a romantic relationship in February 2014, Mr Xu plied her with gifts and benefits. This included the use of his ATM card linked to his bank account where his salary from Eastport of $20,000 per month was deposited.

Between December 2013 and February 2014, Mr Xu transferred $4.2 million to Ms Wang to buy the apartment and the car, both of which were registered in her name.

In January 2014, when Ms Wang was working with United Overseas Bank, Mr Xu got a job for her at his company.

She was paid a salary of $10,000 a month between April 2014 and June 2016 at Eastport, although she did not do any substantive work.

From end-January to early-February 2014, the pair spent time together in China, including visiting Ms Wang's parents during the Chinese New Year holiday.

Around February 2014, Ms Wang discovered that Mr Xu had had a relationship with a woman named Wang Cong, but he assured her that he was no longer seeing the other woman, who worked at his company.

In his lawsuit, Mr Xu, who was represented by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, claimed he had bought the apartment for Ms Wang to improve her living conditions, as he regarded her as a close friend and sibling.

He said the apartment was registered in her name out of convenience, as she lived in Singapore and he wanted her to help him handle matters concerning its purchase, renovation and fitting.

Mr Xu said he bought the car, as he needed to meet customers in Singapore and did not have a company car. He said he told Ms Wang he would let her drive it, not that he was buying it for her.

He said the car was similarly registered in her name so that she could handle administrative matters concerning the vehicle.

However, Ms Wang said after she told Mr Xu in December 2013 that her birthday was on Dec 10, the couple viewed properties together and he bought the apartment for her as a present.

Ms Wang, who was represented by Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng, said after she signed the option to purchase the apartment on Dec 12, 2013, Mr Xu took her to a car showroom.

The model she wanted was not available at the time but she eventually bought the car in January 2014.

Justice Lim said Ms Wang's version was supported by surrounding circumstances, while Mr Xu's explanation was unconvincing.

However, the judge accepted Mr Xu's explanation that he had transferred US$2.6 million to Ms Wang as part of a share transfer plan to insulate Eastport from any risks that might arise due to his troubles in China.

Justice Lim said there was also documentary and contextual evidence to support Mr Xu's explanation that he had transferred US$7 million to Ms Wang to keep funds out of reach of potential creditors in China, and to enable him to restart his business outside China.

The judge said Ms Wang's version, that Mr Xu gave her the money to show his sincerity and gratitude for staying with him and to give her a sense of security, was not credible.

Among other things, the judge noted that Ms Wang had made multiple references to Mr Xu's gifts in her journal entries.

For instance, in December 2013, Ms Wang recorded: "A man buys a house and a car for you unconditionally within three months. This kind of thing only happens if the two get married on the spur of the moment."

However, Ms Wang made no mention of receiving US$2.6 million in a journal entry she wrote three days after that sum was transferred to her, in which she was critical of Mr Xu.

"It is also inexplicable that Wang had described herself as suffering and being disappointed with Xu. These were strange reactions from someone who had just allegedly received a US$2.6 million gift," said the judge.