A Chinese tycoon gave Peipei Li US$13 million and bigamously wed her in Las Vegas; four weeks later, another man knelt before Li to promise love and a Ferrari. Li is now involved in a mountain of litigation with the men, but she says one tricked her into an illegal marriage and the other was a sexual harasser
Peipei Li was born, appropriately enough, on Valentine’s Day.
And Luhua Rao told her he loved her just days after they met in Vancouver.
Within a few months the Chinese tech tycoon was wearing an ill-fitting suit and marrying Li in a Las Vegas casino chapel, having already handed over a Tiffany diamond ring and C$17.65 million (US$13.25 million).
Never mind that he already had a wife and family in China.
Then, less than a month after the April 2016 Vegas wedding, lawyer Dongdong Huang knelt down in front of Li in a crowded Vancouver restaurant.
He declared his devotion to the woman he called a goddess – by promising to buy her a Ferrari.
The white-haired advocate hoped the flamboyant vow would take his relationship with Li to a “new level”. He says he showered her and her family with gifts and cash worth about C$1.4 million, depleting most of his life’s savings.
But there was no fairy tale ending with Li for either of the men, who say they were oblivious to each other at the time.
Rao and Huang, both two decades older than Li, 34, would separately end up suing the former office manager to try to get back the funds.
Court documents in a mountain of litigation involving Li depict extraordinary scenes from the courtship rituals of Vancouver’s moneyed Chinese community, against a backdrop of the city’s high-stakes real estate investment scene.
Although the financial dispute between Li and Rao remains unresolved, Li has won a series of prominent Canadian court judgments against him, with millions on the line.
But court documents obtained by the South China Morning Post now show Huang claiming he too believed he was in a romantic relationship with Li at the same time as Rao that cost him a seven-figure sum.
The documents in Huang’s case were only recently unsealed after a request by his estranged wife.
After the two lovestruck men pledged fortunes to Li and the company she set up, she shopped for Vancouver mansions worth millions of dollars, set up a real estate investment office in a downtown skyscraper and bought a Rolls-Royce Ghost costing almost C$500,000.
No claims of wrongdoing against Li, Rao or Huang have been proved in court. On February 7, Justice Elaine Adair reserved judgment in Huang’s case against Li, in which he seeks restitution and damages for Li’s supposed fraud.
The various cases highlight the potential financial obligations of a relationship like that of Rao and Li. In a key decision, Canada’s courts have said Li is entitled to seek spousal support from Rao and a division of property – despite the bigamous marriage being null and void from the start.
Evidence in the cases has been intimate – wedding photos, selfies, audio recordings and hundreds of WeChat messages.
But Li’s complicated personal circumstances have international jurisdictional implications too, with Rao attempting to have a Chinese arbitration panel handle the money dispute with his former lover, and the Canadian courts telling him to freeze the Chinese action.
Both Li and Rao also launched lawsuits against each other in China, she to prosecute Rao for bigamy and he to have the marriage declared invalid, raising more Canada-China jurisdictional issues.
In the words of one Canadian judge, Li is surrounded by a “procedural morass” of litigation.
It didn’t start out this way.
“Thank god [we] met each other unexpectedly,” Rao told Li via WeChat a few days after first laying eyes on her. “You will add so much lustre to my life. I’m grateful for having you. I love you!”
Huang, who has published several volumes of Chinese poetry, called Li “the goddess in my eyes”.
But as the relationships descended into acrimony and the men demanded the money back, Li called the police on both of them, the Canadian lawsuits show.
Rao even spent a night in police custody after he flew from China to Vancouver and went to Li’s home unannounced late at night with at least one other man to demand reimbursement.
That incident has never been previously reported, although Rao’s multi-billion-yuan listed company Shenzhen Clou Electronics issued a statement in June 2019 to try to calm investors amid rumours about its chairman’s potentially costly and complex personal entanglement in Canada.
Li had sent the company’s board of directors and Chinese financial regulators a letter accusing Rao of bigamy and having “degraded his personal morality [and] despised domestic and foreign laws”.
In her legal filings, Li said Rao tricked her into a bigamous marriage and accused Huang of sexual harassment, saying the latter’s admittedly “substantial gifts” were only “accepted and kept to avoid embarrassment”.
In a recorded WeChat message to Rao, Li warned that the court cases risked embarrassing them both, and “the world would come to see our news”.
And a judge at a May 2017 hearing in Huang’s case against Li expressed astonishment, saying it was “unbelievable that someone would bring this to court and air it in public”.
Why, wondered Master Dennis Tokarek, would anybody “want the whole world to know about this instead of resolving it privately”?
Li, Huang and their lawyers declined requests for comment on this story. Lawyers for Rao did not respond.
The tycoon: ‘I’m helplessly in love’
It starts as a love story.
Born on February 14, 1985, Peipei Li grew up in Hubei’s rural Yunmeng County and graduated from Wuhan University with a journalism and communications degree. She had been in Canada since 2009 on a work permit, employed as an office administrator at energy firm SunOil. She also dabbled in property as an occasional referrer of business to Sun Commercial Real Estate (SunCom). Both SunCom and SunOil had the same boss.
She was introduced to Luhua Rao, now 54, by a fellow member of the Wuhan University Alumni Association on the University of British Columbia’s golf course in August 2015, Li said in an affidavit.
They played a round together and Li said she “hit it off” immediately with the older tycoon, who was visiting Canada on business.
Rao had made a fortune – US$850 million at the time, according to the Hurun China wealth report – as the founder of Shenzhen Clou Electronics, which provides software and equipment for electrical grids. His company had factories across China, a skyscraper headquarters in Shenzhen and annual sales of about 10 billion yuan (US$7 billion).
He was also politically connected as a former member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s political advisory body, and was president of the Shenzhen New Energy Association, an industry group. His wife, Yan Yuzhen, was his vice-president at Clou, and mother of their two sons.
Hundreds of translated WeChat messages filed with the British Columbia (BC) Supreme Court by Li’s lawyers chart her relationship with Rao, from the moment he accepts her friend request on August 9. Li has said she believed Rao was separated and in the process of getting a divorce; Rao has asserted he told Li he was married and did not intend to divorce.
“I had never thought too much of Vancouver before, but after the wonderful last night I’m positive that she is the best place in the world,” said Rao from China on August 11. He added: “Come over and let’s have breakfast together”.
Li told Rao to instead return to Vancouver quickly, “before I forget you”.
By August 14, Rao had offered Li a job at his company in China, then suggested she might “take charge of North America” for him, musing that he would even consider building a factory in Canada.
He alternated between declarations of love for his “silly bug” and offers of work and financial assistance.
“When can I hold you into my arms, when can I count the stars with you on those chilly nights and [be] lonely no more,” said the businessman in a dawn message on August 16. “You are bright and agile, you are splendid, you are young. I know I don’t deserve you, but I have my passion for you and I’m helplessly in love …”
Rao urged Li to “think wildly and unconstrainedly”, as they discussed her talents and financial future, and he pledged to make her dreams come true.
“Love is not just about lip service,” Li reminded him. “It’s actions.”
She proposed opening a vegetarian restaurant, or a “custom clothing” store, before suggesting a real estate business.
“Why do you want to make so much money? A woman,” asked Rao.
But the relationship moved fast, as did the business plans, BC court rulings and documents filed by both sides show. According to a judge’s description of facts in one ruling, Rao flew back to Vancouver in mid-September 2015 and the couple’s “intimate relationship” began on a short trip to Seattle.
Rao said in an affidavit they shared a room there “because I do not know much English [and] Li told me there is no more room in the hotel and booked one room”.
The next day Rao bought Li a 1.28 carat, US$34,000 diamond ring from Tiffany’s, and by the end of the month Li had incorporated a BC company that would eventually be called LPP Properties.
Nine days later, Rao signed an agreement to transfer C$20 million to the company in exchange for 50 per cent of its shares, Li owning the other half, documents show. Li contributed C$1,000 to the enterprise, and was its sole director.
Li’s decision to settle on real estate for the business venture was hardly surprising. At the start of her romance with Rao, Vancouver was experiencing a spectacular property boom, with detached house prices up by about 50 per cent in the previous two years, fuelled by a flood of Chinese capital as the country’s rich sought safe havens around the world.
Li had had a front-row seat to the easy fortunes being made, and SunCom was involved in some of the wildest speculative deals of the time. In one set of transactions, a consortium organised by SunCom paid C$60 million for a downtown site valued at just C$16 million – before flipping it to a Chinese investor a month later for C$68 million.
Documents show Rao began transferring millions into LPP’s account from January 2016, eventually handing over a total of C$17.65 million out of the promised C$20 million.
A month before the final transfer of C$9.05 million, Li and Rao married in Las Vegas.
Photos of the April 10, 2016 nuptials, in the Lavender Wedding Salon at the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort, show a beaming Li crowned with a flower circlet, wearing a sleeveless lace gown accessorised with a reptile skin handbag. Rao, shorter than his petite bride, wears a baggy dark suit, too long in the sleeves to show his shirt cuffs, his arm wrapped about Li’s slender waist.
The salon could seat 120 guests, but none appears to have attended. The marriage, conducted by the Reverend Richard Walter, was witnessed by a local wedding photographer.
For his part, Rao later disavowed the seriousness of the wedding, and claimed he told Li he was already married.
“Li said the marriage of this gambling city is nothing but a form and has no effects,” although it might be “good for immigration and for business”, Rao claimed in an affidavit.
Two days before the wedding, Li had signed a lease in Vancouver for an office in the Bentall Four tower, a prime downtown skyscraper. She hired staff, had the space renovated and set about looking for real estate to buy, court documents show.
But trouble swiftly emerged.
In an untimely coincidence, the launch of LPP in June 2016 was met with a bombshell announcement from the BC provincial government: it would impose a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers like Li and Rao, sending the market into a tailspin.
More trouble was on the way: the City of Vancouver announced a tax on vacant homes, further chilling the market.
Both taxes meant “complications” for LPP, said Li in an affidavit: as Chinese citizens without permanent residency in Canada, both she and Rao were liable for the foreign buyers tax, and as investment purchasers, they might get hit by the vacancy tax too.
In her WeChat messages to Rao, however, Li sounded upbeat. She told Rao on September 14 that she had bought a home for C$7 million in the prestigious neighbourhood of Shaughnessy, predicting “[we] will be able to make 500 [thousand] to 1 million Canadian dollars simply by flipping it”.
“We lost the golden peak time of the real estate market last year,” she said, three weeks later. “But it’s okay, there are still opportunities right now. I have talent in this field, just like the land we purchased couple days ago. It’s actually worth C$10 million; we got it for C$7 million.”
The property in Li’s name is currently valued at C$6.35 million.
It wasn’t just the property market turning sour.
Rao said in an affidavit he had visited Li in August 2016 and said he “had a feeling of being deceived” during the trip, as they toured Vancouver mansions on the market for up to C$20 million. Li, he noticed, had bought a Rolls-Royce.
The couple then began arguing over Li’s request that Rao immigrate to Canada, the affidavit and WeChat messages show.
“Hubby you have a home in Vancouver, you have a wifey who loves you very much … we will have a bunch of lovely kids, we will live happily and luckily for the rest of our lives,” wrote Li, a day before sending Rao an immigration application checklist that included a request for a divorce certificate.
“I don’t want to do this … unnecessary,” Rao responded, adding “don’t want to immigrate, don’t want a green card.”
Then on September 12, Rao received a phone call from Vancouver.
It was a lawyer named Dongdong Huang, and he wanted to talk to Rao about his new wife.
The two men’s stories began to converge.
The lawyer: ‘I knelt in the restaurant, she held my hands’
In person, Li is pretty but unassuming, button-nosed and younger-looking than her 34 years.
The Post met her in May 2019, as Huang testified about their relationship in the BC Supreme Court, where he is suing her for fraud and deception, which she denies.
But at the time, reporting on Huang’s case was obstructed by a sealing order. Outside court, Li declined to comment.
Huang, now 61, cut a grandfatherly appearance on the witness box, pink-faced and his hair silvery white, as he described his passion for Chinese-language poetry and his former feelings for Li.
A prominent member of Chinese literary and legal circles in Vancouver, Huang’s firm DD Huang and Associates had offices in Beijing and Richmond, British Columbia. He was also an adjunct professor at Wuhan University, Yanshan University and Qingdao University.
Both Li and Huang agree they had no sexual interaction, and never even kissed.
But Huang has insisted they were dating, and said in his lawsuit that Li falsely led him to believe she “intended to be his romantic and business partner”.
Huang – also an alumnus of Wuhan University – had provided legal advice to LPP and at one stage was working in Li’s Bentall Centre office. He said their relationship developed into more.
He painted a picture of domesticity in spring 2016 at a modest bungalow Li owned on the city’s Eastside, a world away from the mansions of Shaughnessy for which she would soon be shopping.
Huang had been separated from his wife for about two years.
“At Li’s request I would buy the groceries and we would cook together in the house. I would do the dishes. I purchased appliances. I trimmed trees and ploughed and planted the garden,” he said in an affidavit.
Huang then described an extraordinary scene with Li in a Vancouver restaurant, on May 9, 2016: “She said ‘sometimes, the right gift will give rise to a new level of relationship’”.
That meant Huang should buy her a Ferrari, he claimed she told him.
“I agreed,” said Huang. “She told me ‘your giving should be expressed like the engagement in a movie by kneeling down’. I knelt down in the restaurant and she held my hands to take me up to the seat to signify her acceptance.
“She told me that a Ferrari would cost around C$400,000, but with convertible features and other luxury add-ons, the complete package would cost around C$450,000.”
Huang said that three days later, after Li spent the night at his Coquitlam house for the first time, he handed over the funds and some extra, in the form of a 2.6 million yuan transfer to Li’s mother in China. “My love, now my heart is with you. We can use the money for our future life together,” Huang quoted Li as telling him.
Li has said that a “public spectacle” occurred in which Huang knelt down and begged to give her a “substantial gift”, but says she never asked him for a Ferrari and only agreed to accept the gift to escape embarrassment in the crowded and upscale restaurant.
In the end, Li, never did buy a Ferrari.
Instead, Huang said she used the money to buy a Roll-Royce Ghost. The 2016 limousine, bought for C$467,700, was later included among LPP’s assets in a document prepared by Li’s lawyers.
Huang’s lawsuit includes a remarkably detailed list of cash and gifts he said he gave Li. It features six payments totalling C$1.37 million, a C$6,832 Dior handbag, a C$1,674 leather jacket and prosaic household items like bug spray (C$5.99) and a garage door remote control (C$10).
Huang said he also gave Li access to his Chinese bank accounts when she travelled to China in May and June 2016, and that she invited him to join her on the trip to meet her family in Wuhan city and Yunmeng County. She withdrew 260,000 yuan, as well as having Huang transfer 200,000 yuan to Li to buy jade jewellery for her mother, he said.
In an affidavit, Li said she was in China to visit her new husband, Rao.
There is no suggestion the two men encountered each other in China.
But in the summer the lawyer said he “became aware that Li was intimate with Luhua Rao”.
In We Chat exchanges submitted as evidence by Li’s lawyers, Huang told her: “I thought you had a high standard, it’s to my surprise that just a wealthy moneybag like that [Rao] has taken down a goddess easily”.
Li defended Rao as an “amazing” man, accused Huang of being a fantasist, and asked if he was “sick”. She warned Huang: “Your conduct has constituted serious harassment … Please do not send me these things any more. This is the last warning.”
Huang swore that that Li agreed to return his cash and gifts, and two weeks later gave back a C$4,600 Tiffany’s black pearl necklace and a bank cheque for C$148,000.
But eventually, said Huang, Li told him she owed him nothing more. The cash and gifts had consumed most of his life savings, Huang said.
He phoned Rao the next day.
“[I] told him I was aware of his romantic relationship with Li and that I expected her to fulfil her agreement to return my money,” he claimed in his affidavit.
A mansion too far
The baby blue mansion on Matthews Avenue, Shaughnessy, is grand, even by the standards of a street whose residents include the US Consul-General and Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou as she awaits the results of her high-profile extradition case.
A circular driveway sweeps past the home’s stone port cochere, the mansion framed by fir trees.
But for Luhua Rao, it looked like trouble.
And it became the final financial straw in his relationship with Li, although she has said the relationship collapsed after she found out Rao was still married to his first wife.
By November 2016 the couple was “fighting constantly”, Li said in an affidavit. Both she and Rao depicted a relationship increasingly at odds, as Li pressed Rao to send more money to buy real estate, and Rao resisted, much to his bride’s frustration.
The call from Dongdong Huang had already prompted Rao to confront Li. Huang had told Rao that Li had “cheated about ... 7 million [yuan] from him by similar means of love affairs and sexual relationships”, Rao recounted in an affidavit.
Rao said Li admitted she had used Huang’s cash card on the China trip. But Li said this was only because “Huang loved her so much that Huang forced Li to use his bank card”, Rao swore.
In WeChat messages to Rao, Li branded Huang a “hooligan” who was blackmailing her. She urged Rao not to answer any questions from “that evil person”.
It wasn’t just Huang telling Rao tales from Vancouver. In November, Rao said he received an anonymous call from a “pious Christian” woman warning that “Li and others were trying to transfer the money in Li’s account to somewhere else and that I had better protect my money from Li”.
So, on November 23, Rao phoned RBC and told the bank to freeze his joint account with Li.
He pressed Li for details of their business and finances. “Invested so much money in it … What’s to be afraid of?” he asked her.
That month, Li had been trying to convince Rao she had struck a savvy deal to buy the blue mansion for C$15.5 million.
The home is now valued at C$10.2 million.
“I clearly refused … I realised from what happened that all Li did is a plot to convert [my] money for her own use,” Rao swore.
Li rued that “a single anonymous call has caused the situation between us”. But she continued to plead to be allowed to buy the house, depicting it as a bargain that “my flight attendant friend’s hubby helped me get”.
“You think I’m easy to be taken advantage of,” she told Rao.
His response was angry. “Who is taking advantage of you? You are the one who has been spending the money.”
Three days later, on December 1, Li was watching the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team lose 3-1 to the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena when her phone buzzed with a message. “What are you doing?” asked Rao.
Li responded with a photo of the NHL game in progress, telling him she would be home “probably 10ish”, but wondering why he wanted to know.
Then, at home, she received what she called in her affidavit a “strange” call from Rao in which he demanded the return of LPP’s money to him, and denied knowing about plans to buy real estate with the funds. The evening was about to get stranger.
Li was back at her home on the city’s Eastside at 11.30pm when “several individuals that I did not know started banging on my door”, she swore.
She said she eventually realised Rao was one of the people outside. He had flown to Vancouver to get the money back.
Li refused. “I was very afraid, and called the police,” she said.
The tycoon said he was accompanied on his midnight mission by “a student named Yang”, but they eventually left the property “pursuant to [the] police’s advice”.
The next night Rao reached out to Li to try to set up a meeting at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver.
“Based on what happened last night, I’m scared,” Li told him on WeChat. “It doesn’t seem like we are family. If you really want to communicate, you would not take such an extreme violent measure like yesterday …”
In his final message in the WeChat exchange provided to the court, Rao said: “What’s to be scared of if you haven’t done anything wrong? Give me back the money quickly.”
“You are such a con man,” she responded.
The Vancouver meeting never took place. Three days later, Rao launched his first lawsuit against Li and LPP Properties for the return of the C$17.65 million, accusing Li of fraud and unjust enrichment.
Rao’s statement of claim made no mention of his marriage or romantic relationship with Li.
He was soon back in Vancouver, but when he arrived at the airport on February 5, 2017 he was arrested for allegedly uttering threats against Li.
Rao, who denied the accusation, said he spent the night in detention. At 9.30 the next morning, he appeared in courtroom 101 of BC Provincial Court, in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood that is known for open drug use, chronic homelessness and petty crime.
Proceedings were stayed by the prosecutor.
‘In the end, we both lost’
The opulent lobby lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong is a world away from the gritty Downtown Eastside.
Patrons take in views of the city’s teeming Victoria Harbour and the Kowloon skyline, as they enjoy the hotel’s famous high tea.
It was on this neutral territory that Li and Rao met on March 17, 2018, to try to end a spiralling international dispute that by then involved five legal actions in Canada and mainland China. It had been less than three years since they met in Vancouver. By Rao’s count, they had spent less than 20 days together since their wedding.
“No one else was present for our meeting. During our meeting, Ms Li made a settlement proposal to me,” Rao said in an affidavit.
Li proposed a settlement to resolve all the cases at once. There was Li’s family law action in BC, Rao’s BC civil suit, an attempt by Rao to have the matter dealt with by the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) in Shenzhen, a Chinese action by Li accusing Rao of criminal bigamy and a Chinese divorce action by Rao seeking to invalidate their marriage.
“The whole three-dimensional chess game is a procedural morass,” BC Justice Nigel Kent said in December 2017, in Rao’s civil suit.
After the Hong Kong meeting, Li’s lawyers sent Rao a settlement plan, copies of which have been filed as evidence, with terms that included Rao dropping any claim to the Shaughnessy home bought for C$7 million.
In a voice message to Rao a month after the Hong Kong meeting, Li urged him to bring their fight to a close before a trial.
“If we bring lawsuit to court now, CRA will come collect all the taxes, and we paid our money to the lawyers,” said the recording, later submitted as evidence. “In the end, we both lost. Then the world would come to see our news to see our jokes. Do you think this sounds good?”
But Rao has said he never agreed to the deal.
Instead, three more unresolved Canadian lawsuits, two by Li and one by Rao, have been added to the pile.
As for Huang, he was back in court last Friday for the 26th and final day of trial in his case against Li, LPP Properties and Li’s parents, brother and sister. None of the defendants attended in person.
Because of the sealing order, Huang vs Li et al had long gone unreported – even as Li’s dispute with Rao attracted wide coverage. But the seal was lifted in December, allowing the Post to report freely on the case.
Huang’s estranged wife Zhong Yu Lu had sought the unsealing, her application saying Huang told her he had no money left to pay her in their marital split because “he had been ‘defrauded’ by a woman with whom he had a relationship”.
In his lawsuit, Huang accuses Li of having “dishonestly intended to deceive Huang, to mislead him to believe that she was available for a long-term intimate spousal relationship, and to obtain from Huang money, valuable assets and personal and professional services”.
Li denies any wrongdoing and none has been proved against her or others in the case. She has denied any romance whatsoever with Huang.
Instead, Li said Huang sexually harassed her and attempted to “pressure and coerce [her] into a sexual relationship”. Huang tried to undermine her marriage to Rao, Li said in a countersuit, and breached his fiduciary duties to Li and LPP.
She contacted the Vancouver Police Department in March 2017 to lodge a complaint of criminal harassment, which resulted in a constable visiting Huang but no charges, and is depicted in Huang’s lawsuit as an attempt to intimidate him.
In court, Huang sat in the gallery cracking his knuckles before being called to testify about a 400,000 yuan transfer from his account in China to that of Li’s brother, Daqi.
Huang testified that he trusted Peipei Li to invest the money in BC real estate for him. “She’s good at investment … I’m not good,” he said.
Instead, he said, Daqi Li used it to buy a Mercedes-Benz. Daqi Li, a mechanic who has lived in Vancouver with his sister, does not dispute that. But he has claimed the money was legitimately gifted, and Huang had no say in how it would be spent.
On at least one point, Huang and Peipei Li now agree: at no stage did she truly harbour romantic feelings for him.
Yet both he and Rao were once clearly besotted by Li. To Huang she was a “goddess”. To Rao, his “silly bug”.
And beneath layer upon layer of litigation, at the core of the saga of Peipei Li, are the intense emotions of the players.
“On a misty morning, I see your elegant face, with one single look you’ve captured me,” Rao had told Li, just a few days after their fateful encounter on the UBC golf course.
Huang, a member of the Canadian Chinese Writers’ Association, immortalised his devotion in a seven-stanza Chinese poem, titled Tribute to Red Ferrari. Instead of ending up as a treasured keepsake, it was filed as evidence by Li’s lawyers.
The undated poem, handwritten on stationery from the Westin Wuhan Wuchang Hotel, describes a beautiful young woman behind the wheel of a Ferrari, buildings and trees bowing to her as she speeds away:
“And with your body leaping into the driver’s seat
“You gather the ultimate popularity …
“Because no matter how you move, like a dragon or a phoenix
“Your one-of-a-kind beauty lives in eternity.”
Epilogue: Li vs Rao, Huang vs Li, and the state of play
The romantic and financial drama surrounding Peipei Li, Luhua Rao and Dongdong Huang has generated at least six court cases in Canada, two in China and a bid for internationally binding Chinese arbitration.
In British Columbia, Li has won a succession of judgments against Rao, although the ultimate fate of the millions in cash and assets is unresolved.
In a family action brought by Li, Rao failed to have Li’s claim for spousal support and asset division dismissed on the grounds the bigamous marriage was void. The January 2018 ruling in Li’s favour was upheld on appeal.
Li wants 100 per cent of the couple’s assets in BC, the ruling shows. She has also sought a share of Rao’s worldwide assets, according to documents prepared by her lawyers.
Rao has also been repeatedly ordered in that case to halt his efforts to have his dispute with Li adjudicated by CIETAC, the China-based commercial arbitration body. A BC judge called his efforts an attempt “to achieve an unfair tactical advantage”, noting that his June 2017 petition to CIETAC “does not refer to the parties’ romantic relationship”, nor the ongoing BC legal action.
Rao’s original 2016 lawsuit against Li was ordered discontinued by Justice Nigel Kent, upon Rao’s request.
But after rejecting a settlement plan proposed by Li after their meeting in Hong Kong, the tycoon launched another unresolved action in mid-2018 seeking the return of the C$17.65 million (US$13.25 million) afresh.
Li, meanwhile, followed up two weeks later with a new lawsuit seeking to enforce the supposed Hong Kong deal, to which Rao denies agreeing.
Then came the latest court case, launched by Li in June 2019, suggesting more than C$30 million could be at stake in BC between Rao and Li. In addition to the original C$17.65 million, LPP Properties is suing Rao for C$16 million.
That is because during fall 2016, Rao allegedly borrowed C$16 million from LPP’s accounts, and directed that C$6 million be transferred into Li’s personal account and C$10 million into the joint personal account they shared. But LPP says it is Rao who is liable for the entire sum – since it was he who signed promissory notes to repay the company.
That lawsuit has so far gone unanswered.
In China, Li’s criminal bigamy action was still being pursued by Chinese prosecutors as of January 2019, according to Rao, although he said he had not heard of any proceedings. The day Li filed the bigamy case in January 2017, she informed the board of Shenzhen Clou Electronics and various Chinese authorities about her accusations.
“This has had a significant impact on my business and personal life and has caused me great stress,” Rao said in an affidavit in the BC family action.
Rao’s March 2017 Chinese divorce action against Li to declare their marriage null and void apparently remains unresolved, with Rao saying he had taken no further steps in the case as of January 2019. A December 2018 ruling by the Nanshan District People’s Court in Shenzhen rejected Li’s objections that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case. Li has appealed.
In the BC lawsuit brought by Huang accusing Li of defrauding him, with the help of her family, Madam Justice Elaine Adair has reserved judgment.
Li’s lawyer, Brent Olthuis, said his client declined to discuss the case while the matter was before the courts. Lawyers for LPP Properties and Li’s brother Daqi Li also declined to comment.
Huang’s lawyer, Bruce McLeod, declined an interview on his client’s behalf, and said he could not discuss the case.
Lawyers for Rao did not respond to requests for comment.