A Chinese billionaire linked to a corruption scandal in San Francisco has managed to avoid a prison sentence in the U.S. after admitting to bribing a local building official.
Deferred prosecution: Real estate tycoon Zhang Li, 70, of Guangzhou, China, confessed on Tuesday to making illicit payments to then-San Francisco Department of Public Works head Mohammed Nuru as part of the deferred prosecution agreement he signed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Based on the agreement, Zhang will plead guilty to federal fraud and conspiracy charges and engage in a corporate compliance program aimed at preventing future corruption in addition to paying a personal fine of $50,000 while his company, Z&L Properties, pays a $1 million fine.
Confessing to the bribe: Zhang admitted to providing Nuru with various perks, including free meals, luxury hotel stays and gifts so that his company’s U.S. affiliate, Z&L Properties, Inc., could gain favorable treatment involving the development of a property at 555 Fulton St.
Zhang admitted that between 2016 and 2019, he met and dined with Nuru and other public officials who had influence over the permits, inspections and approvals necessary for the construction of his property.
Zhang also revealed that he hosted Nuru on a trip to China in 2018 and addressed him as “Bro” in messages exchanged through the messaging app WeChat.
Corruption investigation: According to Forbes, Zhang is personally valued at around $1.5 billion, and his company, Guangzhou R&F Properties, holds assets exceeding $53 billion.
He was charged by the U.S. Justice Department with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in May 2021 and arrested in London in November last year. Six months after his arrest, Zhang agreed to be extradited to the U.S. to face criminal allegations.
The corruption investigation has implicated over 14 top officials and businesspeople in San Francisco, including former utilities chief Harlan Kelly and former building inspector Bernie Curran, both of whom have already faced legal consequences.
Nuru is currently serving an 84-month sentence after pleading guilty to wire fraud last year.