London’s Privy Council has ruled against developer Yida Zhang in his long-running dispute with local real estate agency Luxury Locations.
Nearly a decade after the Jolly Harbour-based firm was engaged by Yida to negotiate his US$60 million purchase of the 1,600-acre site and assist with structuring the concessions package for the special economic zone in Antigua’s north-east, Yida has still failed to pay Luxury Locations their fee, despite signing an agreed court order in March 2017 promising that he would do so.
Yida claimed to be entitled to escape from that court order, saying he did not understand the document signed by him in front of Justice Wilkinson in the company of his lawyer and two bilingual translators.
The High Court accepted in 2020 that Yida could be released from the court order, and the Court of Appeal in 2021 turned down an appeal by Luxury Locations.
Luxury Locations, represented by attorney Andrew O’Kola and barristers Thomas Roe KC and Daniel Goldblatt of 3 Hare Court Chambers in London, took the case to Antigua and Barbuda’s highest court, the Privy Council.
On Tuesday, five judges of the Privy Council ruled that the High Court and the Court of Appeal were wrong to uphold Yida’s arguments.
In a damning judgment noting Yida’s “history of non-payment, procrastination and disregard of court orders”, the judges unanimously found that Yida had “fabricated the allegation that he had not understood what he was signing … when he had run out of other delaying tactics”.
Yida’s claim that he had not understood the 2017 court order he signed, promising to pay Luxury Locations for their negotiations on his behalf, was a “fabrication” and “a myth, which has no substantial foundation”, said judge Lord Leggatt.
The Privy Council has restored the 2017 court order and has also ordered Yida, recently described by PM Gaston Browne as “one of the most committed investors to the country”, to pay Luxury Locations’ legal fees in the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal and the High Court.
Commenting on the ruling, Luxury Locations directors Sam and Nadia Dyson said, “We are pleased that the Privy Council has seen through Mr Yida’s false claim not to have understood what he was signing when he agreed to pay Luxury Locations’ fee nearly six years ago, and his many delaying tactics to avoid making payment for services he received.
“We urge him now to bring this matter to a close, and to restore a little of his shattered reputation, by obeying the court order and paying what he owes without further delay.
“Equally, we would like to extend our gratitude to our legal team – local and UK-based – for outstanding representation and for their unwavering commitment to our case.”
Luxury Locations’ counsel Andrew O’Kola also expressed delight with the outcome of the appeal and the Privy Council’s decision to overturn the previous rulings.
“This has been a long and arduous journey, but we always believed in the validity of our client’s claims and the ultimate justice in the cause.
“Equally, the jurisprudence of Antigua and Barbuda in particular, and the OECS and other states in general, are better for the clarity provided by the Privy Council in respect of an important area of law as it relates to default judgments,” O’Kola said.
Yida’s sprawling development was tipped to see the creation of factories, hundreds of homes and holiday resorts. But it has been mired in controversy from the outset amid fears about its impact on the pristine protected area.