A wealthy couple who accused their ‘devious little sod’ nephew of stealing their £4 million house have left him staring at a £150,000 court bill.
Self-made millionaire Michael Lee, 79, and wife King-Su Huang, 73, sued Cheng-Jen Ku, 40, after he claimed to own the swanky property in Kensington’s Queen’s Gate Place Mews.
The couple purchased it in Mr Ku’s name back in 2004 for ‘privacy reasons’ as they did not want the extent of their wealth to become public knowledge, Central London County Court heard.
Mr Ku had initially lived there and later claimed he was the true owner of the house and that it had been ‘gifted’ to him in line with Taiwanese tradition by his rich auntie.
But he told Judge Alan Johns that he had later moved out of the multimillion-pound house ‘because his auntie and uncle were too strict’.
The judge, Alan Johns, said Mr Ku’s behaviour ‘didn’t look like the actions of an owner’ before ruling the true beneficial owner of the house is his aunt.
He added that Mr Ku is liable to pay his auntie and uncle’s lawyers’ bill of around £115,000. He will also have to pay his own legal fees, which were estimated before the trial at £35,000.
The exclusive cobbled mews was once the epicentre of the world’s classic car trade and the site from which motor racing legend Alain De Cadenet ran his Le Mans team.
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Businessman Mr Lee, who made his fortune through a £13m Essex electronics company, met his wife while working in Taiwan and later channeled his cash into a property portfolio.
And when he and his wife found the property in Queen’s Gate Place Mews, just a short walk from the Royal Albert Hall and Natural History Museum, they decided to snap it up.
The Victorian mews was built between 1866 and 1869 to provide stables for the grand houses on nearby Queen’s Gate and is accessed through a Grade-II Listed archway.
Mr Ku, a ‘close’ nephew whom Mr Lee had been fond of as a ‘cute little kid’, had lived with the couple in their £1 million-plus Essex former home after moving to the UK from Taiwan.
Mr Lee told the judge that his wife handed their nephew £1.57 million to buy the house in his name, explaining that for ‘privacy’ reasons and to prevent the property being called on as collateral for business loans they wanted to put it in Mr Ku’s name.
It is now worth more than twice the price that was paid, with lawyers valuing it at up to £4 million.
Mr Ku became its registered owner, initially living there, though his aunt and uncle also had keys and a room in the house.
But he later went on to claim the house was his because it was ‘gifted’ to him by his aunt, a claim blasted as ‘piffle’ by Mr Lee in evidence during the trial.
Mrs Huang sued her nephew – backed by her husband Mr Lee as a key witness – for a ruling that, despite being in his name, she was always the rightful owner.
Mr Lee told the judge that his nephew had gone from being ‘a cute little kid’ nicknamed ‘Trouble’ to become ‘mean and nasty’ in adulthood.
‘He is trying to steal our house because he has turned out to be a devious little sod and that’s why we’re in court,’ he said from the witness box.
Mrs Huang’s barrister Rupert Cohen told the judge there had been a clear understanding that, despite being in their nephew’s name, she was the true owner, with her nephew holding it on trust for her.
She and her husband paid all the bills owing for the house and claimed her nephew only ever used the property ‘with her consent’.
However, Mr Ku’s barrister, Scott Redpath, claimed the clear intention was to ‘give this property to him’.
In his ruling, the judge said: ‘I’ve reached a clear conclusion that the intention in this case was for the mews house to be owned by Mrs Huang. Indeed, there was an express agreement to that effect.
‘There was an express discussion over the telephone before the house was purchased in which she said she wanted to buy a property but use Mr Ku’s name. He agreed.
‘As understood by the parties, it was an arrangement not that the mews house was to be Mr Ku’s but was to be Mrs Huang’s and just to be held in Mr Ku’s name.’
He added: ‘I make a declaration that the mews house is held in trust by Mr Ku for Mrs Huang.’
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