A prominent B.C. real estate developer who has spent more than a decade working on large projects in the Vancouver area is wanted by the Chinese government on corruption charges.
The Chinese government, which has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on corrupt officials and wealthy residents who have fled the country, recently released a list with Interpol of the top 100 officials wanted by state security forces for graft – and 26 are suspected to be living in Canada.
One of those wanted is Cheng Muyang, the 45-year-old son of Cheng Weigao, the former governor of China's Hebei province. Chinese media said he fled to British Columbia with a Hong Kong identification card in 2000.
News reports and two business associates say he is known in Vancouver as Michael Ching Mo Yeung, who operates Mo Yeung International Enterprises Ltd. He has partnered with several major B.C. real estate players, according to the two businessmen who have worked with him.
"I've known him since 2003 or 2004. He came in an as an immigrant. He's got some money. He got involved in the real estate business," said Thomas Wu, a real estate adviser at Rennie & Associates Realty who sat on the board of directors of the Richmond-based Canada Asia Pacific Business Association with Mr. Ching. He added that, like many others, he "knew nothing" about the source of Mr. Ching's wealth.
"Why isn't [Citizenship and] Immigration Canada checking these people out?" Mr. Wu asked.
Two pictures online – his Interpol mugshot and a picture of Mr. Ching beside Mr. Wu at an event held by the Canada Asia Pacific Business Association – show a distinctive mole above Mr. Ching's right eye.
Mr. Ching is "still in town," according to Mr. Wu, who said he saw him a couple of weeks ago. He has built a mini-empire in B.C., with several projects on the go and partnerships with major real estate companies. He has built a six-storey condo development called Collection 45 in Vancouver's trendy Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, and bought a 56-suite hotel in scenic Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island.
His company is also the main developer of a large, proposed commercial property called the International Trade Centre in Richmond, B.C., a Vancouver suburb that is about 50 per cent Chinese. Last year, he signed a deal with Opus Hotel Corp. to manage a 110-room, 12-storey hotel called Opus that is to open in the fall of 2017 at that site and also include two office towers and 34,000 square feet of retail space.
Mr. Ching's Mo Yeung International Enterprises website is listed as "under maintenance," but a cached page shows two projects – one retail, the other a condo – in Richmond. Mr. Ching has also applied to create a subdivision on a lavender farm he owns on Cortes Island, about 160 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.
In the charges against Mr. Ching given to Interpol, Chinese authorities describe him as "state personnel" who took "advantage of their office to misappropriate, steal, swindle or use other illegal means to acquire state properties," and someone who "conceals, transfers, purchases, or acts as an agent to sell something he clearly knows as [sic] booty which have been gained through committing a crime."
Calls to Mr. Ching's office in Richmond went unanswered, and a voicemail inbox was full. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not respond to requests for comment.
David Matas, the lawyer who represented the Chinese fugitive Lai Changxing in Vancouver as he fought extradition to China, has been retained by Mr. Ching in the past. He declined to comment on Wednesday in a carefully worded e-mail.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said the government is determined to clamp down on corruption. "Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper once stressed that Canada has no intention to 'harbor fugitives,' and is willing to collaborate with China in their repatriation," embassy spokesman Yang Yudong said in an e-mailed statement. "We hope to carry out more co-operation with Canada in this regard to advance anti-corruption efforts by getting all fugitives including Cheng Muyang back to China to face justice."
A press officer at the Chinese embassy said the difference in the name on the Interpol list and the name Ching Mo Yeung was that the former is the Mandarin pronunciation, while the latter is Cantonese.
George Wong, who heads the real estate marketing firm Magnum Projects Ltd. and is currently marketing Mr. Ching's International Trade Centre in Richmond, said he has known the businessman for about two-and-a-half years. "He's one of the nicer guys to deal with, that's why it's quite a surprise," Mr. Wong said in an interview, noting that others had similar opinions of him. "There was no inkling, no warning whatsoever."
Mr. Wong, who also works with the major B.C.-based developer Westbank, said he was not sure what would happen to properties now being developed by Mr. Ching should he be arrested and charged.
The Greater Vancouver area has been a prime destination for real estate investment from across the Pacific. In recent years, as mainland China's economy has boomed, a new wave of migration began – aided in part by investor immigrant programs that helped bring about 30,000 Chinese millionaires. Their search for luxury properties has helped drive the average price of a single-detached family home in Greater Vancouver over $1.4-million, and made it the priciest area in Canada to buy a house.