Records reveal NYC building is owned by company linked to man blacklisted for allegedly funding African dictators

Originally published on Al Jazeera America – Nov. 2, 2015

NEW YORK — Across from the New York Stock Exchange, a porter in a pressed black tunic sidesteps the traders and tourists walking on the cobblestones of the street whose name signifies the financial artery of the U.S. economy. The imposing neoclassical building behind him is the property of a shell company linked to a Chinese business mogul who, according to a 2014 U.S. Treasury decision, is barred from doing business in the United States.

An Al Jazeera investigation reveals that 23 Wall Street is owned by a company tied to Xu Jinghua, dubbed China’s “middleman” in Africa by The Financial Times because of his decades-old efforts to procure African oil supplies for the country. An April 17, 2014, Treasury announcement said Xu had been barred from doing business in the U.S. because of what Treasury alleged was his “undermining [of] democratic processes and institutions in Zimbabwe, facilitating public corruption by Zimbabwean senior officials through illicit diamond deals and providing financial and logistical support to the government of Zimbabwe” and its private sector allies. Zimbabwe has faced international sanctions over the authoritarian rule of its President Robert Mugabe, who has been in office for the past 35 years.

The Treasury sanctions against Xu are intended to prohibit a person or business —and related third parties who have materially or financially aided them — from owning any assets and operating businesses in the U.S. But CS Wall Street, identified in the 2009 congressional report as a shell company for China Sonangol, continues to own the corner building across from the New York Stock Exchange.

China Sonangol is a partnership between Xu’s 88 Queensway Group and Angola’s state-owned energy firm, Sonangol, which has funded four decades of authoritarian rule in Angola, a key African oil supplier to China.

The signatory on the deed for the property, seen by Al Jazeera, is Kwan Man-fai, frequently referred to in business publications as Louis Kwan.

Kwan is listed as a director on at least six Hong Kong–registered companies named in the congressional report as being part of the 88 Queensway Group, named for the Hong Kong address where the companies are typically registered.

The Treasury Department declined to answer when Al Jazeera asked whether any action has been taken to freeze the assets of the 88 Queensway Group’s U.S. holdings.

“We do not have any information that can be shared publicly on this,” department spokeswoman Betsy Bourassa said. “Treasury continually monitors its sanctions programs, including the Zimbabwe program, and updates its list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons as appropriate.”

The 88 Queensway Group was accused in a 2009 U.S. congressional report of maintaining a complex web of enterprises, subsidiaries and partnerships that have funded dictatorships from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Pyongyang, North Korea — including allegedly providing a line of credit worth up to $8.9 billion to Angola’s regime. The report also notes that Xu has operated under aliases as disparate as Xu Songhua, Sam Pa and Antonio Famtosonghiu Sampo Menezes. And yet none of those names are listed on any of the dozens of mainly Hong Kong-registered corporate filings for the companies that congressional researchers have determined he owns.

The U.S. Treasury, in its announcement of sanctions against Xu, alleged his company funded and provided equipment to Zimbabwe’s intelligence service, the CIO, which plays a key role in suppressing dissent in the country.

The 2009 congressional report said Xu’s group creates “numerous companies within a complicated organizational structure to invest globally, thereby enabling the group to acquire assets unnoticed.” At least two other banks and corporations named in the report continue to operate in the U.S.

CS Wall Street purchased the property from AI 23 Wall Street in 2008 for $150 million, public records show. Both are shell companies for larger enterprises registered in New York and Delaware. The nearly 350 units in the mixed residential and commercial building are now selling for as much as $5 million.

The New York State Division of Corporations’ entity address for AI 23 Wall Street is listed as that of AFI USA, the U.S. subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments, an international investment company chaired by Lev Leviev, a prominent Israeli businessman and ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Leviev has maintained a significant stake in Angola, his interest being in diamonds.

Africa Israel Investments is a “substantial shareholder,” owning about 6 percent of what the congressional report identified as a main holding company of the 88 Queensway Group, the Hong Kong–registered Nan Nan Enterprise Limited, according to Nan Nan’s 2015 annual report. Kwan and a handful of other company directors listed on other 88 Queensway Group companies are listed as directors on Nan Nan’s business publications and filings.

Nan Nan spokesman Derek Li rejected claims that the company is related to “the alleged 88 Queensway Group or ‘Sam Pa’” and declined further comment in an email to Al Jazeera.

A 2008 memorandum of understanding between AFI USA and Xu-linked China Sonangol provided for the purchase of not only the 23 Wall Street location but also other prominent Manhattan properties, the congressional report said. Al Jazeera could not establish whether the current owners of many such properties identified in the report were still owned by 88 Queensway Group or its associates.

Nan Nan annual reports identified Right Time Group, a marketer of timepieces, according to company information, as operating in the United States. A 2012 Nan Nan annual report said the group was sold to an unnamed buyer in the previous year, but the residential address given for company directors, Liang Jin You (also referred to as Liang Jingyou on some filings), Leung Kin-yau and Li Kwo-yuk, in Flushing, New York, is still owned by the same people.

At that address, a woman who identified herself only as Cindy said her family helped facilitate business from the clock company, but she had no idea that Nan Nan owned the company or who the new buyers are, though she said they were in China.

Neither China Sonangol nor AFI responded to interview requests by time of publication. Xu’s current whereabouts are unknown after Chinese news site Caixin reported that police detained him at a Beijing hotel earlier this month. China’s Public Security Bureau in Beijing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests to confirm the arrest.

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