United Kingdom

Charles and the Chinese donor who's a wanted man in Taiwan

A a deeply private – some might even say mysterious – individual, Bruno Wang rarely courts publicity. 

Still, he was willing to pose for `a photograph with Prince Charles in January 2019 at the opening of a health and wellness centre at Dumfries House, part of the Prince’s charitable foundation.

Behind them, a plaque unveiled moments earlier by the Prince prominently records that the centre was ‘made possible by the generosity’ of Mr Wang’s foundation.

What a contrast between this cheery image and another of 54-year-old Mr Wang which now, as then, features on the Taiwanese government’s Ministry of Justice website.

Alongside an appeal for information, Mr Wang’s face looms from what is effectively a wanted poster accusing him of money laundering and being a fugitive from justice.

A a deeply private – some might even say mysterious – individual, Bruno Wang rarely courts publicity. Still, he was willing to pose for a photograph with Prince Charles in January 2019 at the opening of a health and wellness centre at Dumfries House

Though he vehemently denies the allegations, and indeed denies any wrongdoing, Mr Wang – who describes himself as a ‘Chinese philanthropist’ – is only too aware that should he set foot on the island, he would be arrested and put on trial.

Whether this uncomfortable fact is known to Charles and his advisers is unclear, but it is perhaps worth drawing a comparison between Mr Wang’s donation and one from Russian banker Dmitry Leus, highlighted last week by The Mail on Sunday in our ‘cash for access’ revelations that have prompted an investigation at The Prince’s Foundation which has led to Michael Fawcett temporarily stepping down as chief executive. Mr Fawcett says he fully supports the ongoing investigation.

Mr Leus gave £500,000 to the foundation last year only to later learn that its ethics committee had rejected it, apparently because it did not consider the gift appropriate.

Like Mr Wang, Mr Leus was accused of money laundering in his homeland, but the Russian’s conviction was overturned and he was exonerated. Little wonder perhaps that Mr Leus now feels aggrieved, especially as he hasn’t had his money back.

Some might forgive him for wondering why Mr Wang (who, it must be said, was not seeking an honour of any kind in return for his donation) escaped similar treatment.

Mr Wang would argue that he is innocent, stands no chance of a fair trial in his homeland and he, too, is a victim of a vexatious prosecution.

It stems from one of France’s biggest political and financial scandals of modern times, which left a trail of unexplained deaths, nearly half a billion dollars in missing cash and troubling allegations of government complicity.

The scandal centred on a £2 billion arms deal between France and Taiwan, signed in 1991. France agreed to supply Taiwan’s navy with six frigates, a deal which Mr Wang’s arms-dealer father, Andrew Wang, helped broker.

Though he vehemently denies the allegations, and indeed denies any wrongdoing, Mr Wang – who describes himself as a ‘Chinese philanthropist’ – is only too aware that should he set foot on the island, he would be arrested and put on trial

It was beset by allegations of bribery, with Andrew Wang said to have received millions in kickbacks – claims he always denied. His son was said to have provided ‘assistance to [his father] to secure bribes’ – which he adamantly denies.

Andrew Wang left Taiwan in 1993 and never returned. It was said that he disappeared before he was due to be questioned about the murder of a navy captain who was about to blow the whistle on the kickbacks. Wang Snr, who died in 2015, accused the Taiwanese of adding the murder allegation only to improve the chances of his extradition.

At some point, the rest of his family – his wife and Bruno and his three siblings – also moved abroad, settling in England.

Taiwan issued an international warrant for Andrew Wang’s arrest, alleging murder, corruption and breaking defence secrecy laws. Investigators in France and Switzerland looked into at least some aspects of the transactions. In 2001, a BBC report said the Swiss authorities ‘have now blocked several accounts of Mr Wang and his family both in Switzerland and in Luxembourg’.

At the same time, Swiss newspaper Le Temps said the authorities were alerted to the accounts after a bank official in Zurich became suspicious that Mr Wang’s wife and Bruno were moving documents and millions of dollars into several different accounts across Switzerland. According to legal documents in the Cayman Islands, where Bruno now lives, his father once said he could never return to Taiwan because of ‘a sustained media campaign for over 20 years’.

He added: ‘I cannot imagine that I or my family can face a fair trial in Taiwan… [after] my image has been completely demonised by the public statements made about my role in obtaining the [defence] contract.’

His case was that all the money he received was legally paid to him. In 2014, a court in the Cayman Islands dismissed all of the allegations made against him and described the Taiwanese claim as ‘wholly unintelligible’ and based on allegations which were ‘hopelessly general and vague’.

But even after Andrew Wang died in London, aged 86, prosecutors in Taiwan continued their pursuit of the millions from the warships deal, claiming Bruno and his family were still ‘at large’. In October 2019, the Taiwanese Supreme Court ruled that Andrew Wang’s widow and children were ‘innocent third parties’ who could ‘not rightly be considered to be co-offenders and who could not be charged with any criminal offence’.

Last month, however, the Taipei Times, an English-language newspaper in Taiwan, reported that a request had been granted to seize more than £300 million in funds held by the Wang family in Swiss bank accounts. Sources close to the family say the vast majority of these funds have been released.

Despite the vociferous claims of innocence, the allegations hung over the Wangs, including Bruno, for two decades.

Dividing his time between London and the Cayman Islands, Bruno describes himself as a ‘philanthropist, patron of culture and businessman’. His website also describes him as a ‘dedicated practitioner of energy healing and mindfulness’ who established the Pureland Foundation – which supported Charles’s wellness centre – ‘to support social, spiritual and emotional wellness and enrich lives through art and music’.

Moving in exalted social circles, and often accompanied by his sister, Rebecca, who has been described as a friend of the Prince of Wales, Bruno has attended events held by Charles’s charitable organisation, the Prince’s Trust.

On one occasion, he was pictured with Prince Edward. In addition to his charitable ventures, he runs Bruno Wang Productions and has financed several Olivier-nominated West End shows.

The Prince’s Foundation last night declined to discuss Mr Wang or his donation to the Dumfries House Wellness Centre, which was also funded by glamorous Taiwanese businesswoman Christine Chiu and her plastic surgeon husband Gabriel, the stars of the Netflix series, Bling Empire.

The Wellness Centre does not represent the first time that Charles has benefited from Mr Wang’s largesse. He also supported Children & The Arts, a charity the Prince founded to give underprivileged children access to the arts.

The idea came to him after he visited a school for excluded children in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, where he saw a class studying Romeo and Juliet. Surprised that the children had not seen the play performed, Charles invited them to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production in Stratford.

‘My hope is that children will gain a lasting love of the arts and be confident to walk into a gallery, museum or theatre and know it’s somewhere they belong,’ he said.

But as laudable as Charles’s project was, it has since become drawn into the ‘cash for access’ scandal threatening to tarnish his good work.

In 2017, Hussam Otaibi, a Jordanian merchant banker and a generous financial backer of Children & The Arts, was appointed its chairman and brought with him several key employees of his investment fund Floreat.

An art lover, Mr Otaibi arranged auctions of works by prominent artists, including Tracey Emin, to raise money for the charity.

According to Floreat’s website, where it describes itself as ‘long-term supporters of the charity’, it has raised £240,000 for Children & The Arts by hosting contemporary art auctions.

By 2019, however, the charity found itself in financial trouble. According to one source, donors dried up after Prince Philip stepped back from public life and Charles was required to take on more duties. ‘Once Charles stopped being so involved with the charity, we struggled to attract the big donors,’ the source said.

Another source said: ‘There was a feeling that you had to say to the charities, “Well, you’ll have to learn to stand on your own two feet because the Prince is going to be King one day and he won’t be there to help in the same way.” ’

Children & The Arts began the process of winding up but, for reasons that remain unclear, required £200,000 to complete the process. Last September – at the alleged behest of Mr Fawcett, who was for many years Charles’s most trusted executive and remains a confidante – £200,000 of Mr Leus’s money was transferred to the charity.

In its annual report, the charity said: ‘Although the charitable fundraising climate remains highly challenging, the charity has organised itself to secure the funds of £233,000 to settle its remaining liabilities and undertake the orderly closure of its business activity throughout 2019/20.’

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