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Chinese real estate tycoon arrested in London over SF corruption case

Chairman of Guangzhou's R&F Properties Li Zhang is pictured in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Jan. 4, 2017. | Xinhua/Sovannara via Getty Images | Source: Xinhua/Sovannara via Getty Images

A Chinese billionaire developer was reportedly arrested in London two weeks ago and faces extradition to the U.S. for trial over his alleged involvement in a San Francisco corruption case.

Li Zhang, 69, the co-founder and owner of the Guangzhou-based, Hong Kong-listed R&F Properties, is accused of bribing San Francisco officials to obtain construction project permits.

The arrest marks the latest fallout in the Mohammed Nuru case, which has caused political earthquakes in San Francisco since 2020. 

In the original complaint against Nuru, the former director of the San Francisco Department of Public Works, federal prosecutors said that Nuru was treated by a “Developer 1” with luxury hotel accommodations and expensive wines in exchange with benefits for a project. The “Developer 1” is identified as Zhang in multiple media reports.

Nuru was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Members of San Francisco Public Works conduct tree chipping near San Francisco City Hall on Dec. 28, 2017. | Courtesy Department of Public Works

R&F Properties acknowledged that Zhang picked up the hotel tab for a person in charge of the Department of Public Works, but denied the bribery claim, saying on its WeChat account that “the company is taking legal actions against the false allegation.”

According to South China Morning Post, R&F Properties told the Hong Kong stock exchange earlier this week that it had “no interest” in the San Francisco project, which is built by Z&L Properties, a separate company owned by Zhang.

Zhang is well-known in the Chinese-speaking world with a name that often appears on lists of wealthiest individuals—so his arrest triggered a wave of news coverage in Chinese-language media.

Zhang is said to be fighting the extradition while under supervised release in London, where he’s held on a record-breaking $18.4 million (£15 million) bail.

Han Li can be reached at