A criminal trial in China added a clarifying chapter to the saga of Chinese investments in the Grand Strand area and the naivete of local officials who touted them here.
By 2014, the golf tourism business was in serious decline. Owners of golf courses, many still paying off mortgages, were stuck with assets on their books far exceeding their actual market value. Many were quietly trying to sell the courses with little success.
Jane Zheng was a native Chinese working as a realtor with a local company. Her niche market was other Chinese nationals with seemingly excess cash to invest in U.S. properties. At the time, the Chinese economy was growing at such a rate that many Chinese businesses and individuals had considerable excess cash to invest.
Zheng connected with Dan Liu, reportedly a managing partner in Yiqian Funding, a peer to peer lending company in China that received money from Chinese investors that it lent to business or other entrepreneurs or invested it. Investors and the company supposedly made money on the interest paid on the loans or on the rise in investment assets.
Over an approximate 18 month period, Zheng brokered the sale of 22 local golf courses and other development properties to, supposedly, three Chinese corporations for whom Liu was the exclusive U.S. representative.
While not being licensed to do business in South Carolina, according to records of the S.C. Secretary of State Office, the three corporations supposedly formed at least 16 LLCs locally, each holding some of the various golf course and development property assets. One or more of three Chinese corporations owned 90 percent of each LLC with Liu, as the exclusive agent, acting for the corporations. The LLC’s primarily conducted business locally under the name Founders Group International.
Everything looked great. Local owners got rid of golf course properties that had become toxic to them. Liu was playing the big money man locally and his partner in Yiqian Funding, Xiuli Xue, was bringing potential investors to Horry County to see investment opportunities.