RICHARD KAY: Was the darling of the golden company Sir David Tang a 24 carat fraudster?

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The tributes were comprehensive and generously generous, which is understandable for someone celebrated by influential people for his scholarship and style, a man whose enviable address book was matched only by his conspicuous consumption.

For his many friends, the untimely death in 2017 of entrepreneur Sir David Tang was a loss they deeply felt.

Hollywood stars, models, celebrities and royals lined up to pay tribute to his qualities in their own way.

Australian actor Russell Crowe celebrated his Hong Kong-born friend as “smart, charming, intellectual, salacious, hilarious, loving and funny like crazy”; while Naomi Campbell called him “the man who lived his life to the fullest.”

Always eccentric, Sarah, the Duchess of York described Tang, 63, as “my brother Sun” to her “sister Moon”.

Others recalled the extravagant and objectless lifestyle of the bon vivant.

What none of this praise mentioned is that this colorful life was allegedly funded by a giant fraud.

Six months after his disappearance, reports suggested that far from being a social billionaire – the etiquette he played with his limousines, private jets and all that was first-class – at the end of his life, Sir David was almost penniless.

Naomi Campbell and David Tang at a 2016 book launch

It came about after a sale of his personal effects, including a gift from Prince Charles, which raised not quite a half a million pounds at a Christie’s auction, which raises questions on how the dazzling Tang Dynasty was brought to ruin.

By this time his spectacular £ 9million waterfront home in Hong Kong, where he and his second wife Lucy loved to entertain, was gone, as was the family townhouse in Belgravia.

Now, in an extraordinary twist, it is claimed that Tang’s legendary opulence was not based on his business ingenuity, but seemingly on theft from the companies he was a director of.

The sensational allegations – first revealed by Richard Eden of the Mail yesterday – were made by former Guards officer and oil tycoon Algy Cluff in the latest volume of his memoir, Off The Cluff, which will be released next week. .

In the book, Cluff writes that after Tang’s death, it emerged that “for many years he had plundered the assets of various companies without the knowledge of shareholders in order to finance his mytho-manic life.

“The pressure to maintain this systematic fraud for 20 years must have been terrible and probably hastened his death.”

Tang, who wrote a column about the agony of a rich man for the Financial Times, has died after a long battle with liver cancer.

Cluff, who gave Tang his first job in 1980, has no illusions as to why his protégé – who he said possessed a “predatory celebrity fixation” – may have succumbed to crime.

“David,” he writes, “possessed exceptional gifts, but also two fatal flaws. . . it was a disarming but ultimately destructive obsession to be not only a celebrity, but also the equal of the greats in the country.

‘Follow the [Dukes of] Marlboroughs, the [super-rich] Keswicks and the [land-owning] Northumberlands was above his financial capacity and led to his second flaw – gambling – which only made the problem worse, leaving him to adopt less acceptable tactics.

Somehow, Tang, who managed to remain friends with Princess Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York after the royal sisters-in-law broke up, found himself in financial trouble.

Somehow, Tang, who managed to remain friends with Princess Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York after the royal sisters-in-law broke up, found himself in financial trouble.

Yesterday Cluff, 81, was reluctant to talk further about the allegations, simply observing that: “It looks like I stoked a hornet’s nest.”

But friends of the former owner of The Spectator magazine said he was “very” true to his claims. I understand that the allegations refer in particular to two companies created by Tang, The China Club, a plush establishment with a Michelin-starred restaurant installed atop the former Bank of China building in Hong Kong, and the Pacific Cigar Company, the exclusive distributor in the Far East of Havana cigars.

The two have been very successful and are still negotiating. According to a personality familiar with the scandal, the allegations date back to the 1990s.

Somehow, Tang, who managed to remain friends with Princess Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York after the royal sisters-in-law broke up, found himself in financial trouble.

“My only explanation is that he wanted to live the life of a plutocrat but couldn’t afford it,” they say.

“In order to spend the huge amount of money he didn’t have, he started plundering the treasuries of these companies.”

Sir David reveled in his status as a man of legendary generosity, making his homes, drivers and cars available to his friends and entertaining on an epic scale.

He rarely allowed someone else to pick up the tab and didn’t think about spending tens of thousands on a whim or the spin of the roulette wheel.

David Tang with Sarah Ferguson at the Royal Academy

David Tang with Sarah Ferguson at the Royal Academy

Author Simon Winchester, who first met Tang in the 1980s, recalled, “David was in Hong Kong. He called and said, “I’m bored, let’s go to Florence.” So he flew to London and Lucy, David and I then flew to Florence.

“We were staying in a luxury hotel like the Excelsior. . and David said, “I would love to go to Cannes. So he bought an incredibly expensive car and we went to Cannes and he paid for everything on the trip.

One night, they met in a casino, and Tang took $ 1,000 out of a wad of cash and gave it to Winchester. “Put it on any number you want,” he later remembered to tell her. “It was the roulette table and I bet it on 23 and, amazingly, I won $ 35,000.

“I told David it was his money, but he wouldn’t take it. In the end we agreed and he took $ 30,000 and I got $ 5,000.

When the news of the sale of Tang’s goods by Christie’s became known, interior designer Joanna Wood, who had known Tang as both a friend and a client for over a decade, said, “I didn’t. I really had no idea. He always seemed to be very generous and to have a lot of staff and money.

“I’m very sorry for Lucy – I don’t think she knew that. If his own wife didn’t know, then how the hell would I do it?

This mystique was at the heart of David Tang’s story. With his fruity, strong, and exaggerated manner of speaking and flamboyant gestures, Tang was a character that could have come straight out of a PG Wodehouse novel.

He has already arranged for Kevin Costner, heiress Isabel Goldsmith and newspaper boss Jocelyn Stevens – the grandfather of model Cara Delevingne – to fly to the opening of his private club in Beijing. Their trip included a picnic on the Great Wall of China, served by white-gloved waiters carrying silver cutlery and crystal crockery.

“I sometimes give the impression that Icarus has no ambition,” he liked to say. “There’s no point in being mediocre in anything. “

David Tang and Joan Collins at the Collins Book Launch Party at the Bfi in Southbank in 2011

David Tang and Joan Collins at the Collins Book Launch Party at the Bfi in Southbank in 2011

Overall, Cluff’s allegations are an incredible postscript to a remarkable life, which saw Tang – arrived in Britain at the age of 13 unable to speak a word of English – become the person most better connected of British society.

As he grew up, money was certainly not a problem. His grandfather, who founded the Kowloon Motor Bus company, was knighted by a grateful British Empire.

David arrived in England in 1967 after his father opened a restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue.

The family settled in Kent and David was a pensioner at the Persia School, paying, in Cambridge. When his father died in 1986, he was said to have inherited £ 5million.

After studying law and philosophy at King’s College London, Tang returned to Hong Kong and began working for Cluff.

He was a natural entrepreneur and opened the China Club in 1991. The club, with a membership fee of £ 12,000, was a huge success and other ventures followed.

In London, he launched China Tang, a restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel. Its various activities included oil exploration, gold mining and fashion.

Alternately snobbish and smooth, he soon collected contacts in high places.

A friend once explained, “David works on the principle that everyone should eat. If you invite the Queen over for dinner often enough, she will eventually agree.

“So if you give her the best dinner she’s ever had, she’ll come back.” “

In London, he launched China Tang, a restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel.  Its various activities included oil exploration, gold mining and fashion

In London, he launched China Tang, a restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel. Its various activities included oil exploration, gold mining and fashion

It clearly worked because Tang was a guest at Sandringham, where he taught the Queen one of her famous card tricks.

Coupled with that charm, he had a knack for revealing gossip, like the telegram he received from Princess Diana after receiving an OBE: “Lots of kudos – more than I’ve ever had. “

Play was a constant feature. Interviewed by Kate Moss for Vogue, he told her he had already lost his home on a bet; and in his book, Cluff recounts that a butler received a tip of £ 90,000 from Tang after being successful at the gaming tables.

Today his legacy as a flamboyant business buccaneer seems somewhat tarnished.

His chivalry was for charitable services. But who was he giving the money so freely?

Overall, this is not how Sir David Wing-cheung Tang would have hoped to be remembered.


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