Extradited Chinese Billionaire Appears in US Court, Admits to Bribing San Francisco Official

SAN FRANCISCO—Chinese billionaire Zhang Li, who was extradited from London, appeared in the U.S. District Court on the night of July 18 and faces charges of bribing a top San Francisco public official, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California.

According to an information filed on July 18, Mr. Zhang, 70, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.

Mr. Zhang has admitted to the bribing accusation and entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to an announcement from Northern California U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey’s office.

A further hearing date was set for Aug. 10 at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick.

The information revealed how Mr. Zhang bribed then San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru by providing him with food, drinks, luxury lodging, and transportation during a trip Mr. Nuru took to China in 2018.

The bribe was to influence Mr. Nuru, the Information alleges, so that he would provide favorable treatment on decisions and city approvals needed during the construction and development of a mixed-use property at 555 Fulton Street in San Francisco.

The property at 555 Fulton Street was being developed by Mr. Zhang and Z&L Properties Inc., a company controlled by Mr. Zhang and formerly based in Fremont.

Z&L Properties was also charged in a separate information with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of honest services wire fraud, for its participation in the bribery scheme.

The company facilitated the payment of bribes to Mr. Nuru in exchange for favorable treatment regarding the 555 Fulton project, according to the allegations in the criminal information.

Z&L Properties will plead guilty to both charges and has agreed to pay a fine of $1 million.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District did not reveal the exact date Mr. Zhang was extradited, but only stated that Mr. Zhang had consented to extradition and was subsequently surrendered to U.S. authorities about six months after he was arrested in December 2022 in the United Kingdom.

“The criminal charges and resolutions announced today send a clear message that this office will not tolerate the corruption of public officials in the District by anyone, including individuals acting from outside of the United States,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Robbins stated in the announcement.

If convicted, Mr. Zhang faces a maximum sentence of 20 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000, plus restitution if appropriate, according to the announcement.

More than 14 individuals and entities have been charged in connection with that larger set of investigations. These include Mr. Nuru; Harlan Kelly, the former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; and multiple city contractors and other facilitators of bribes and corruption.

Mr. Nuru was charged in January 2020 and pleaded guilty in January 2022. On August 25, 2022, Mr. Nuru was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison.

A separate defendant in the investigation, Walter Wong, was charged in June 2020 with conspiracy to defraud the public of its right to honest services and with conspiracy to engage in money laundering.

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