Chinese former duck farmer buys big in Vancouver: first a US$39m home, then a US$3.9m car, now a downtown hotel

Chen Mailin, a Chinese former duck farmer turned tycoon, has made a habit of big purchases in Vancouver.

Five years ago he bought a 17,000 sq ft Italianate mansion in Point Grey, one of the city's most expensive neighbourhoods, for what is thought to have been the highest price ever paid for a home in the city (or Canada, for that matter): C$51.8 million (US$39 million).

Then, this April, his Union Pay credit card was used by his son to pay C$5.1 million (US$3.9 million) for what is surely one of the city’s most expensive cars – a customised Bugatti Chiron.

Now, a lawsuit has revealed that Chen – a former member of the Chinese government’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – is the new owner of the 213-room Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver in the city’s downtown core.

Chen Mailin bought his home on Vancouver’s Drummond Drive for C$51.8 million. It may have been the costliest home ever bought in Canada. Photo: SCMP Picture
Chen Mailin bought his home on Vancouver’s Drummond Drive for C$51.8 million. It may have been the costliest home ever bought in Canada. Photo: SCMP Picture

The luxury hotel, currently part of the Marriott chain, also includes 7,600 sq ft of conference space and one of the city’s best-known high-end restaurants, Diva at the Met.

Chen, 50, made his fortune in China via hotels and real estate development in his native Nanjing, but his business interests also include pharmaceuticals and garment manufacturing.

The former factory worker’s first business was a duck farm that he started in 1992, according to a profile in the Nanjing Daily.

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A Chinese corporate disclosure says Chen is a Chinese citizen with Canadian permanent residency.

He first hit headlines in Vancouver with his purchase of the Point Grey mansion, which was previously owned by computer games mogul Don Mattrick and his wife, the telecoms heiress Nanon de Gaspe Beaubien-Mattrick.

The C$51.8 million (US$39.3 million) sale price was thought to have represented the single biggest residential transaction ever conducted in Canada, although the nature of private sales made this difficult to confirm.

A suite in the Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver. Photo: Marriott
A suite in the Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver. Photo: Marriott

Any single lot in the neighbourhood of Drummond Drive and Belmont Avenue, Vancouver’s most expensive district, is a trophy. Chen’s home occupies three separate lots, with frontages on both streets, and an almost unthinkable 1.1 hectares (2.7 acres) of land. A home across the road on Belmont, on a lot half the size, is currently on sale for C$58 million (US$44 million).

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What’s in Chen’s garage? In April, his son Ding Chen posted on Instagram a photo of the bill for a Bugatti Chiron, one of the world’s most exotic and expensive supercars, with his father’s name clearly visible.

Ding Chen used the post to complain about the C$908,343.25 in taxes (US$690,413.54) on the total purchase price of C$5.1 million.

What Chen Mailin paid for the Metropolitan is not known.

The C$5.1 million Bugatti Chiron that was purchased on Chen Mailin's credit card is pictured undergoing customisation in a photo posted on his son Ding Chen’s Instagram feed. Photo: Instagram / Ding Chen
The C$5.1 million Bugatti Chiron that was purchased on Chen Mailin's credit card is pictured undergoing customisation in a photo posted on his son Ding Chen’s Instagram feed. Photo: Instagram / Ding Chen

But his ownership of the hotel is confirmed in court documents related to a June 12 lawsuit by an Ontario investment firm, Global Edge Investments.

The registered business name of the new owner is “Metropolitan Hotel”, but the company is Jinling Hotel Ltd, whose sole director is Chen.

Global Edge, which buys and manages hotels and restaurants across Canada, is suing Chen for allegedly cutting it out of a deal to buy the Metropolitan, after inviting Chen to take part in the purchase as a capital partner in 2017. Global Edge says it gave Chen confidential information about the opportunity.

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But Chen used Global Edge’s information “to unlawfully usurp and appropriate” the deal, and purchased the hotel “without partners” in late 2018, the lawsuit alleges.

None of the claims of wrongdoing has been proven in court.

Chen Mailin (centre) is a real estate and hotel tycoon. His first business was a duck farm in his native Nanjing. Photo: Dingye Group
Chen Mailin (centre) is a real estate and hotel tycoon. His first business was a duck farm in his native Nanjing. Photo: Dingye Group

Chen denies any wrongdoing, and says in his August 13 response to the lawsuit that none of Global’s information was confidential. He says Global’s principal Anthony Cohen “falsely represented” that the seller, Liverton Hotels International, “would not entertain offers from any other parties” because of Cohen’s relationship with the vendor.

Letters of intent between Global Edge and Chen’s firm, Global Dingye Capital, about the potential purchase were non-binding, Chen says.

Global Edge is seeking C$5 million in damages.

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A spokesman for real estate firm CBRE, which Global Edge says appraised the hotel and is believed to have been involved in the sale, declined to comment.

Neither Chen’s nor Global Edge’s lawyers responded to emails and voicemails about the case.

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.

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