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France

Chinese billionaire in ‘fatal crash’ after Bordeaux chateau sale

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-21

A Chinese tea and hotel tycoon and three other people were feared dead Saturday after the helicopter in which he was surveying his newly-purchased Bordeaux vineyard crashed in the Dordogne river in southwestern France.

Lam Kok, the 46-year-old head of the Hong Kong-based Brilliant group, was surveying his 65-hectare (160-acre) new property in a helicopter piloted by the former owner, French entrepreneur James Gregoire, when the accident happened Friday.

The body of Lam Kok’s 12-year-old son was recovered late Friday and there was little hope that the other passengers could have survived. On Saturday, four dinghies were scanning the water near the site of the crash as divers went under and police dogs combed the river bank, an AFP photographer reported.

Officials from the French gendarmerie -- a paramilitary police force -- said mangled parts of the chopper's fuselage had been retrieved but said strong currents were complicating the search for the three missing.

‘Scared of helicopters’

The owner of the Brilliant group had celebrated his purchase of the Chateau de la Riviere, one of the region's oldest estates, with a lavish event Friday. After a press conference, an introduction to the staff and dinner, former owner James Gregoire was planning to take his buyer on a short tour of the vineyards and surrounding grounds.

Lam Kok's wife pulled out at the last minute, saying she was "scared of helicopters", said an AFP photographer at the event.

Gregoire meanwhile patiently carried out his pre-flight procedures, a check-list resting on his knees.

When the four did not return after 20 minutes, employees at the vineyard contacted emergency services.

In a bizarre twist of fate, a previous owner of the Chateau de la Riviere was killed in a plane crash in 2002.

Largest Chinese investment in Bordeaux

Gregoire bought the property, the largest in Bordeaux's Fronsac wine-producing region and close to the prestigious Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the following year.

Earlier Friday, the vineyard's managing director, Xavier Buffo, told reporters the sale marked the largest Chinese investment in Bordeaux property to date.

Hong Kong-based Brilliant, which specialises in rare teas and luxury hotels in China, had said it wanted to turn the chateau into a high class tea and wine tasting centre.

The group -- whose interests range from Pu'er, a dark fermented tea from China's Yunnan region, to top-end resorts -- also planned to build a hotel near the vineyard.

Wealthy Chinese have developed a taste for fine French wines and their extensive buying power has been credited with pushing prices for certain vintages to record levels.

In recent years they have increasingly taken to buying vineyards as well. But the value of each transaction has generally been under 10 million euros ($13.6 million).

FRANCE 24 with AFP

Date created : 2013-12-21

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