Wealthy couple claim ‘devious little sod’ nephew stole their £4m home

Bitter court battle begins over home in exclusive mews where film producer Sir David Puttnam lives

Jane Dalton
Saturday 23 September 2023 09:14 BST
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A wealthy couple are locked in a court row with their “devious little sod” of a nephew over claims he “stole” their £4m house in a celebrity millionaires’ row.

Michael Lee, 79, and his wife King-Su Huang, 73, became neighbours to Chariots of Fire producer Sir David Puttnam when they bought a three-bedroom home in a mews in Kensington, west London, near the Royal Albert Hall.

But the house was bought in the name of their “very close” nephew, Cheng-Jen Ku, and now the couple are fighting a bitter court battle over who is the true owner.

Ms King is suing her nephew – backed by her husband as a key witness – claiming that she was always the rightful owner.

Mr Cheng, however, insists the house is his because his aunt “gifted” it to him – a claim blasted as “piffle” by Mr Lee as the case began at Central London County Court.

Mr Lee told Judge Alan Johns KC that his nephew had gone from being “a cute little kid”, nicknamed “Trouble”, to “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.

Mr Lee, who became a millionaire through an Essex-based electronics company, told the court it had always been his dream to own a mews house.

The property in Queen’s Gate Place Mews, also near the Natural History Museum, dating to 1866-1869, is accessed through a Grade-II Listed archway.

Mr Lee said his wife handed their nephew £1.57m to buy the house in his name, explaining that, because they already owned a string of properties he didn’t want them all to be in the couple’s names.

The house is now worth more than twice the price paid. Mr Cheng became its registered owner, coming and going as he pleased and with his own keys. He and his aunt and uncle had a room there.

Ms King’s barrister, Rupert Cohen, told the judge the couple insisted 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.

“[Ms King] 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.

But 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”.

Mr Cheng insists he was “unwell” when he initially agreed to sign over his property.

Mr Lee said when he first encountered his nephew as a spirited five-year-old “Trouble” had been an affectionate nickname, but he said: “He was quite a cute little kid back then, it’s only now that he’s turned mean and nasty”.

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.

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