British Columbia

Slain West Vancouver millionaire painted as womanizer in court tussle over fortune

A West Vancouver millionaire, who was charged with the second-degree murder of his business partner, was in a Vancouver courtroom this week to testify in a civil dispute over the dead man's estate.

Li Zhao and wife testify Gang Yuan had countless women, so many it was impossible to keep track

A West Vancouver millionaire, who was charged with the second-degree murder of his business partner, was in a Vancouver courtroom this week to testify in a civil dispute over the dead man's estate.

Li Zhao, 58, is accused of killing Gang Yuan after a fight in the driveway of a West Vancouver mansion on May 2, 2015.

Both the victim and the accused had lived together off-and-on in the mansion shared by their extended family. Police alleged that Zhao shot Yuan in the driveway of the mansion.

The next day, Yuan's body was found chopped into more than 100 pieces inside his West Vancouver mansion.

Zhao was charged with second-degree murder and interfering with a body. He pleaded not guilty to both charges in 2015 and has remained in custody as his criminal trial continues.

In the meantime, the civil dispute over Yuan's estate began in B.C.Supreme Court on Monday.

At issue is the future of Yuan's Canadian assets, which include farms in Saskatchewan as well as luxury Vancouver properties estimated to be worth more than $16-million.

Investigators first received reports of a violent confrontation at the home where Yuan's body was found on May 2, 2015. At the time, police would only say Zhao and Yuan were "known to each other." (CBC)

In total, five women and their children made claims to Yuan's money and assets. None can be identified, by court order.

Zhao was released from custody to testify at the trial on Thursday.

He was called upon by lawyer David Wotherspoon, who is representing one of the children, to shed light on Yuan's relationship with the women in his life and to show he has no legal spouse or "marriage-like relationship."

Two of the women initially claimed they were Yuan's spouse, which would entitle them to 50 per cent of his estate. The remainder would then be split five ways between Yuan's children. By day's end Thursday, one of those women had reached a settlement, leaving only one woman claiming spousal status, Justice Elliott Myers heard.

At the hearing on Thursday, Zhao and his wife testified that Yuan had a string of girlfriends — as many as 100.

Zhao painted Yuan as a serial womanizer who prided himself on how many woman he could bring home but never let any of the women stay very long, fearing they'd lay claim to his wealth.

Police investigators worked at the home, in the 900-block of King Georges Way, after Yuan's body was found. Zhao was charged days later. (CBC)

Yuan's many girlfriends came from Beijing, Shanghai — other places — and were ever-changing, Zhao's wife, Xiao Mei Li, testified Thursday.

She said Yuan would pick them up at the airport and bring them home.

The civil trial is expected to wrap up next week. The date for final arguments in Zhao's murder trial is expected to be set later this month.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend