British Columbia·In Depth

Months to marry and years to split as Chinese millionaire battles Vegas spouse

Peipei Li and Luhua Rao got married in a Las Vegas fever in April 2016. The B.C. courts have been sweating the dissolution of their union ever since.

Legal battle between former lovers and business partners spans continents and levels of B.C. justice

The battle between Chinese millionaire Luhua Rao and his Las Vegas bride Peipei Li has consumed the B.C. courts for nearly three years. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)

Peipei Li and Luhua Rao got married in a Las Vegas fever in April 2016.

The B.C. courts have been sweating the dissolution of their union ever since. 

The former romantic and business partners have faced off in both civil and family court. They've claimed and counterclaimed and accused each other of trying to manipulate both the Canadian and Chinese legal systems.

Three separate B.C. Supreme Court justices have already weighed in on elements of the case.

And this week, three Appeal Court justices will dissect the saga once again as Rao — a Chinese millionaire businessman — attempts to undo Li's lower court victories.

Who can settle this mess?

The Appeal Court actions centre on issues underlying the "multiplicity of legal proceedings" the pair have launched in Canada and in China — where Li is suing Rao for bigamy and he's trying to force her into trade arbitration.

They're questions that affect both the B.C. taxpayers footing the bill for the province's legal system as well as the couple using the courts to settle personal and financial grudges.

Judges at both the B.C. Supreme and B.C. Appeal Court levels have been asked to consider the saga of Peipei Li and Luhua Rao. (David Horemans/CBC)

What is the relationship between domestic courts and international bodies when parties have ties to both countries?

Who should have the final word on this messiest of marriages?

And is there a judge anywhere who can satisfy both parties?

Surprise! Another wife!

The basic facts of the case are quite simple. Rao was introduced to Li — an office administrator — during a business trip to Canada in August 2015.

They got married and also started a corporation called LPP Properties to invest in Vancouver real estate.

Luhua Rao alleges Peipei Li used $7 million of his money to buy this home in Vancouver's Shaughnessy neighbourhood. (Google Maps)

Li is the sole director of the company and although they are equal shareholders, Rao put in $17.6 million while Li contributed $1,000 to the venture.

About $7 million was used to purchase a home on Vancouver's west side.

According to Li's version of events, she didn't know Rao also had a wife in China.

"In late autumn 2016, the relationship between Ms. Li and Mr. Rao collapsed, and relations between the parties became acrimonious," reads a statement of claim filed by Li last summer.

"At no time prior to the breakdown in the relationship did Mr. Rao disclose to Ms. Li that he remained married in China."

'Unfair tactical advantage'

It's at this point in the story — nearly three years ago — that Li and Rao turned to the courts.

He sued her to get back the money he'd sunk into their business partnership — failing to mention the fact they'd been married — and then she sued him for divorce.

Luhua Rao and Peipei Li were married in Las Vegas in April 2016. They've been splitting up in B.C. courts almost ever since. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun via Associated Press)

Rao ultimately wanted to discontinue his lawsuit — asking a Chinese trade arbitration panel to rule on the matter instead.

One B.C. Supreme Court judge accused Rao of "attempting to achieve an unfair tactical advantage" and ordered him to stop taking further action in China.

Another judge annulled the marriage but wouldn't strike Li's demands for spousal support and a division of property.

Rao will argue to overturn both decisions in Appeal Court this week.

A Hong Kong meeting ...

But that's by no means the end of the tale.

Their Appeal Court seats will still be warm when the unhappy couple suit up in B.C. Supreme Court next week to argue another claim Li filed last summer alleging that she and Rao met in person in Hong Kong in March 2018 to agree on a settlement to the whole mess.

In a lawsuit filed last summer, Peipei Li claims she and Luhua Rao met in Hong Kong in March 2018 to discuss a settlement to their legal battle. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty)

She claims they agreed that he would get about $8 million and she would keep the house and all the remaining assets of LPP Properties.

Rao hasn't filed a response because he claims that if he did so Li might argue that he was acknowledging the jurisdiction of the B.C. courts to settle a claim he's hoping to have handled by Chinese arbitration.

Instead, Rao has applied to have the proceedings stayed.

And besides, he says, "that settlement agreement was never agreed to."

P.S. One more lawsuit

Oh, and one more thing.

LPP Properties, the real estate investment partnership Li and Rao formed when they were still in love — the one in which she's the sole director — filed a new lawsuit last week against Rao seeking $16 million plus interest for money he allegedly borrowed from the company.

No response has been filed and no hearing date has been set.

In one of his court filings, Rao claims he and Li spent at most 20 days together during the time they were actually married.

It's a fraction of the time it has taken them to split up.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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