A wealthy couple is suing their “sneaky little bastard” of a nephew over claims he “stole” their £4million London home.
Michael Lee, 79, and his wife King-Su Huang, 73, became neighbors of Chariots of Fire producer Sir David Puttnam after buying a three-bedroom house in chic Queen’s Gate Place Mews in Kensington in 2004.
However, since the house was bought in the name of her “very close” nephew Cheng-Jen Ku (40), who also has a room there, the family is now engaged in a bitter court battle over who the real owner is.
Ms King is suing her nephew – supported by her husband Mr Lee as a star witness – over the ruling that, although it was in his name, she was always the rightful owner.
However, Mr Cheng claims the house is his because it was “gifted” to him by his aunt – a claim which Mr Lee described as a “piffel” as the case began in Central London County Court.
Self-made electronics millionaire Lee told judge Alan Johns KC that his nephew had grown from a “sweet little child” nicknamed “Trouble” into a “mean and evil” adult.
“He’s trying to steal our house because he turned out to be a sneaky little guy and that’s why we’re in court,” he said from the witness stand.
The exclusive cobbled streets near the Royal Albert Hall were once the epicenter of the global classic car trade and the location from which motorsport legend Alain De Cadenet ran his Le Mans team.
Businessman Lee, who made his fortune through an Essex-based electronics company, met his wife while working in Taiwan and later invested his money in a property portfolio, told the court it had always been his “dream” to have a Mews house to own.
And when he and his wife found the property in Queen’s Gate Place Mews, a short walk from the Royal Albert Hall and the Natural History Museum, they decided to buy it.
The Victorian stables were built between 1866 and 1869 as stables for the large houses at nearby Queen’s Gate and are accessed via a Grade II listed archway.
Mr Lee told the judge that his wife gave her nephew £1.57 million to buy the house in his name, explaining that they already owned a number of properties: “I didn’t want all those properties on running our name.”
It is now worth more than double the price paid, with lawyers estimating it at up to £4 million.
Mr. Cheng became the registered owner, coming and going as he pleased and with his own set of keys, and both he and his aunt and uncle had rooms there.
Ms King’s lawyer Rupert Cohen told the judge that the couple insisted there was a clear understanding that, although it was in her nephew’s name, she was the true owner and that her nephew was holding the property in trust for her.
“Ms. Huang claims that before purchasing the property, she and her nephew agreed that the property would be registered in his name, but that the usage rights belonged to her, and that she paid the entire purchase price of the property,” he said .
However, Mr Cheng’s lawyer, Scott Redpath, claimed the clear intention was “to give him this property”.
Mr. Cheng maintains that the house was a gift from his beloved aunt in accordance with Taiwanese custom, but admits that she may still have rights to a “minority” interest in the property.
Part of the logic in donating the Mews House was to “preserve the family’s wealth,” Mr. Cheng claims, following a “cultural expectation that when a property is gifted to him, he will use it for the greater significance of the family.” family will be preserved”.
But an outraged Mr Lee shot back from the witness stand: “No way – if that was my intention I wouldn’t be fighting this case now.”
“He hasn’t put a dime into the upkeep of this property,” Mr Lee said, describing his nephew as “too lazy” to even mow the lawn when he once stayed at their country house as a young man.
Mr Lee said his nephew had been nicknamed “Trouble” since he first met him as a spirited five-year-old while working in Taiwan and fell “head over heels” in love with his future wife.
“He managed to get lost in a hotel,” Mr Lee explained. “He was running around everywhere.”
The retired businessman agreed that “Trouble” was an affectionate nickname, but added: “He was quite a sweet little boy back then, only now has he become mean and evil.”
Ms. Huang’s lawyers point out that she and her husband have paid all bills owed on the house and claim her nephew has only ever used the property “with her consent.”
Furthermore, she claims that Mr Cheng once agreed to transfer the property into her name, although he ultimately decided not to do so.
“The parties’ dealings with the property are consistent with other dealings they had with respect to other assets beneficially owned by Ms. Huang but in the name of Mr. Cheng,” their lawyer claimed.
Mr Cheng insists he felt “uncomfortable” when he originally agreed to hand over his property.
His lawyer Redpath explained his defense as follows: “Mr Cheng claims that his aunt purchased the property as a gift for him in approximately September 2004.”
“The property was accordingly transferred to Mr. Cheng and the legal and economic interest in the property vested entirely in him.”
“The plaintiff and Mr Cheng were very close at the time of purchasing the property. She paid the entire purchase price of £1,570,000.
“Mr Cheng denies that at the time of purchase of the property there was an agreement that his aunt would hold the entire beneficial interest in the property, with Mr Cheng being her nominee.”
Although he claims the property was given to him as a gift, Mr Cheng accepts the court could find his aunt has a small share in it as they have shared it over the years.
The case continues and the judge is expected to reserve his decision until a later date.