ZB

Businesswoman was beset with gambling losses, debts prior to violent death

Author
Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 10 May 2022, 9:35am
Fang Sun is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of the murder of Elizabeth Zhong. (Photo / Michael Craig)
Fang Sun is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of the murder of Elizabeth Zhong. (Photo / Michael Craig)

Businesswoman was beset with gambling losses, debts prior to violent death

Author
Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 10 May 2022, 9:35am

In the four years leading to the discovery of Elizabeth Zhong's body in the boot of her Land Rover, the Auckland businesswoman had visited SkyCity Casino 381 times and had accumulated nearly $240,000 in gambling losses.

At the same time, Zhong was being accused in a civil suit in the High Court at Auckland of improperly funnelling millions of dollars from the business she shared with Fang Sun, while creditors sold off the company's assets to repay debts.

Those "agreed facts" were revealed to jurors today at Sun's murder trial, which is now in its third week at the same courthouse where the civil suit once existed.

Zhong, 55, was stabbed over 20 times in her bedroom on the night of November 27, 2020, authorities have said. Her body was found the next afternoon in the back of her blood-smeared SUV, which was parked on the side of the road in the East Auckland neighbourhood where both she and Sun lived.

Zhong's daughter, who has been granted name suppression, described her mother through tears today as a private person but said Zhong opened up to her about her financial troubles and threats from Sun in the final months of her life.

Auckland businesswoman Elizabeth Zhong, 55, was found dead in the boot of her Land Rover in November 2020. Photo / Supplied

Auckland businesswoman Elizabeth Zhong, 55, was found dead in the boot of her Land Rover in November 2020. Photo / Supplied

"For the duration of the time [they were business partners], I think they trusted each other very well," she said. "I think the relationship only broke down in about 2018 or 2019 due to some disputes, but I wasn't aware of the details of the disputes."

Her mother opened up more about the financial troubles, and about threats she said she received from the defendant, after her suicide attempt in the final month of her life, the daughter said.

"I could tell she was getting very desperate and upset at the time," she said. "Only after her attempted suicide, I took over some of her legal matters and tried to help where I can. Her medical team...advised she should no longer be doing these things."

A civil suit was filed in 2019 involving Sun, his ex-wife and a business associated with his family. Sunbow Limited, which Zhong had been listed as director of, had assets of $28.6 million in March 2018, including DigiFilm Limited, Digital Post Limited and two wineries.

But by December 2019, Elizabeth Zhong, Sunbow and its subsidiary businesses were $16.5 million in debt to BNZ, jurors were told.

Fang Sun appears at Manukau District Court in February 2021, charged with Elizabeth Zhong's murder. Photo / Alex Burton

Fang Sun appears at Manukau District Court in February 2021, charged with Elizabeth Zhong's murder. Photo / Alex Burton

During the civil suit, a chartered accountant was assigned by the court to examine Sunbow Limited, Digital Post Limited, Carrick Wines Limited and Kennedy Point Group Limited and Zhong's Mortgage One account. The analysis showed she had diverted over $4.5 million from the businesses into her personal bank accounts.

The lawsuit also alleged that the business - not Zhong - owned the Sunnyhills home that she lived in and another residential property in Kumeu where Sun lived, and that she controlled a much smaller share of the companies that she claimed.

"Ms Zhong denied misappropriating any money or property from Sunbow Limited," the agreed facts that were read to jurors also noted. "She claimed that all transfers, expenditures and loans were for the benefit of Sunbow Limited, and claimed that Sunbow Limited owed her $12,541,153 as of 31 March 2018."

On 30 October, the High Court placed Sunbow Ltd and Digifilm Ltd into liquidation. Three days later, BNZ appointed people to oversee the receivership of Carrick Wines Ltd.

Lawyer Royal Reed, who represented Zhong in the civil suit, testified today that the businesses failed because of the legal fallout that hindered Zhong's ability to pay the company's debts.

She described the financial analysis that found her client to have funnelled $4.5 million into her personal accounts as "misleading to the court" and painting an "incomplete picture". While the analysis showed the money that went into Zhong's accounts, it didn't include the payments Zhong made from her own account to keep the businesses afloat.

"It was actually largely equalised..." she said of the in-going and outgoing payments. "When this incorrect analysis was shown to Mr Sun's lawyers, they agreed their accountant had made a mistake.

Reed also described multiple threats that she said were relayed to her by her client.

"I remember the threats were very unusually violent," Reed testified, describing it as "a very strange experience" that also involved threats to Zhong's young grandchildren.

Zhong told the lawyer she thought she was being followed. One time, when she went to meet Reed, Zhong described seeing Sun driving next to her on the motorway.

"I remember she felt unsafe enough to always drive to my office with the company of another female friend," she said.

Fellow lawyer John Siu, who worked with Reed, recalled accompanying Zhong to the police station to report the threats in December 2019. She also reported to police that the defendant was "squatting" at the Kumeu residence that was part of the civil dispute.

One of the threats Siu described as a Chinese phrase that is hard to translate into English: "He will make her want to die rather than being alive."