FAMILY FEUD Our nephew, 40, ‘stole’ our £4m home on millionaires’ row now we’re taking him to court
A wealthy couple are suing their "devious little sod" of a nephew over claims he "stole" their £4m London mews house.
Michael Lee, 79, and wife King-Su Huang, 73, became neighbours to Chariots of Fire producer Sir David Puttnam after snapping up a three-bed home in swanky Queen's Gate Place Mews, Kensington, in 2004.
But because the house was bought in the name of their "very close" nephew, Cheng-Jen Ku, 40, who also has a room there, the family are now fighting a bitter court battle over who is the true owner.
Mrs King is suing 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 Cheng however claims the house is his because it was "gifted" to him by his auntie - a claim blasted as "piffle" by Mr Lee as the case kicked off at Central London County Court.
Self-made electronics millionaire Mr Lee told Judge Alan Johns KC that his nephew had gone from being “a cute little kid" nicknamed "Trouble" to becoming "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.
The exclusive cobbled mews, close to the Royal Albert Hall, 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.
Businessman Mr Lee, who made his fortune through an Essex-based electronics company, met his wife while working in Taiwan and later channelled his cash into a property portfolio, told the court it had always been his "dream" to own a mews house.
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 Lee told the judge that his wife handed their nephew £1.57m to buy the house in his name, explaining that, because they already owned a string of properties: “I didn’t want all these properties to be in our names."
It is now worth more than twice the price that was paid, with lawyers valuing it at up to £4m.
Mr Cheng became its registered owner, coming and going as he pleased and with his own set of keys, with both him and his aunt and uncle having a room there.
Mrs King's barrister Rupert Cohen told the judge that the couple insist that 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.
“Mrs Huang claims that she and her nephew agreed, prior to the purchase of the property, that the property be registered in his name, but that the beneficial interest would be hers, and she provided the entire purchase price of the property," he said.
However, Mr Cheng's barrister, Scott Redpath, claimed the clear intention was to “give this property to him”.
Mr Cheng maintains that the house was a gift from his beloved aunt in line with Taiwanese custom, although conceding she may still have rights to a “minority” stake in the property.
Part of the logic in gifting him the mews house was to “preserve the family wealth”, Mr Cheng claims, following a “cultural expectation that, if gifted a property, he will maintain it for the wider family importance”.
But an indignant Mr Lee fired back from the witness box: “never - if that was the intention I wouldn’t be fighting this case now”.
“He hasn’t put a dime into maintaining that property,” said Mr Lee, branding his nephew “too lazy” to even mow the lawn when he once stayed at their country home as a young man.
Mr Lee said his nephew had been nicknamed “Trouble” from the time he first encountered him as a spirited five-year-old when he was working in Taiwan and fell “head-over-heels in love” with his future wife.
“He managed to get himself lost in a hotel," explained Mr Lee. “He was running around everywhere.”
The retired businessman agreed that “Trouble” had been an affectionate nickname, but added: “he was quite a cute little kid back then, it’s only now that he’s turned mean and nasty”.
Mrs Huang’s lawyers point out that she and her husband paid all the bills owing for the house and claim her nephew only ever used the property “with her consent”.
On top of that, she claims Mr Cheng at one point agreed to transfer the property into her name, although he eventually decided not to follow through with this.
“The parties’ dealings with the property are consistent with other dealings they had in respect of other assets owned beneficially by Mrs Huang but in the name of Mr Cheng,” claimed her barrister.
Mr Cheng insists that he was “unwell” when he initially agreed to sign over his property.
Setting out his defence, his barrister Mr Redpath said: "Mr Cheng contends that his aunt purchased the property as a gift for him in or about September 2004.
"The property was accordingly transferred to Mr Cheng and the legal and beneficial interest in the property vested in him absolutely.
"The claimant and Mr Cheng were very close at the time when the property was purchased. She paid the entire purchase price of £1,570,000.
"Mr Cheng denies that at the time the property was purchased there was any agreement that his aunt would hold the entire beneficial interest in the property, with Mr Cheng as her nominee."
Although he claims the property was gifted to him, Mr Cheng accepts that the court could find that his aunt has a small stake in it, given their shared use of it over the years.
The case continues and the judge is expected to reserve his ruling until a later date.
My view: Oh yeah they want the house back because the value has skyrocketed to over £4-million, do you think the wealthy couple will fight for a property in Peckham? absolutely not, this is just greed.