London’s Les Ambassadeurs Casino Fails to Freeze Chinese Billionaire’s Assets

Posted on: August 25, 2021, 04:50h. 

Last updated on: August 25, 2021, 07:20h.

A high-end private members casino that was the scene of Sean Connery’s famous chemin de fer session in Dr No cannot freeze the assets of one of China’s richest men.

Les Ambassadeurs
“Les A” is a private members’ casino for the super-rich, including Yu Songbo, left inset, and James Bond, right inset. (Image: Les Ambassadeurs/Eon/United Artists/

Les Ambassadeurs in London’s affluent Park Lane asked the Court of Appeal to grant a worldwide freezing injunction on the assets of billionaire Yu Songbo.

The casino is seeking to recover more than £10 million (US$13.7 million) in bounced checks issued by the Chinese national during a high-stakes gambling session in 2018.

London’s High Court has already ruled that Yu is liable for the debt. But this week, an appellate panel declined to approve the injunction, ruling that there was “no real risk of dissipation.”

That means there is little evidence to suggest Yu could hide his assets to avoid paying his debts.

Yu Who?

Yu is the chairman of the Zhoushan, China-based Herun Group, whose services include real-estate development, energy transport, shipbuilding, grain processing, and logistic and industrial investment, according to its website.

In 2014, he was ranked by Forbes as the 149th-richest person in China but has since dropped off the list of the top 150. This does not necessarily suggest Yu’s wealth has diminished significantly since then, just that he has been overtaken by an explosion of the super-rich. Forbes estimated last year that the number of billionaires in China had sextupled in the previous decade.

According to court documents, Yu blew £19 million (US$26 million) at Les Ambassadeurs during a five-day gambling spree in April 2018. But the checks he wrote to cover these sessions were “subsequently dishonored” by his bank.

In late 2018, the casino struck a deal with Yu to reduce the debt to £16.54 million (USD$23 million), which could be paid back in installments.

Summoned Via WeChat

But Yu defaulted on the first payment, which meant the full amount was due immediately. The casino’s lawyers sued, serving proceedings against the tycoon via his personal account on the Chinese social media platform WeChat.

Yu subsequently made some payments, reducing the debt to £6.5 million (US$10 million). But then he went off the radar again. Eight months later, Les Ambassadeurs reinitiated court proceedings.

Last November, the High Court ruled the Chinese national was liable for £10 million (US$13.7 million), a figure that included interest and legal costs, as well as the principal debt.

“Les A,” as it is known in gambling circles, was featured in Connery’s first scene in Dr. No, where the line “Bond, James Bond” is uttered for the first time. The casino was also featured in The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night.

But it remains a discrete venue for the super-rich. Premium membership to the club costs £25,000 per year (US$33,000).