Chinese Exile’s NYC Penthouse Heads Toward Bankruptcy Sale

Miles Kwok with 781 Fifth Avenue (Getty, Visit 5th Ave)

Miles Kwok with 781 Fifth Avenue (Getty, Visit 5th Ave)

UPDATED, Oct. 18, 2022, 3:30 p.m.: Another price chop has visited the Sherry-Netherland’s 18th-floor penthouse.

The 15-room, full-floor apartment at the ritzy Upper East Side cooperative is back on the market for $35 million, down from the $67.5 million it sold for in 2015 and the $86 million it listed for later that same year.

The unit’s ownership is a matter of dispute, but for years it has been inhabited by Ho Wan Kwok, an exiled Chinese billionaire also known as Guo Wengui, who fled to the U.S. in 2014 and filed for personal bankruptcy in February, stating that he is he up to $500 million in debt.

Now a bankruptcy trustee appointed in June to manage Kwok’s estate wants a judge to clarify the penthouse’s ownership, ending an alleged “shell game” intended to shield Kwok’s assets and paving the way for a sale to repay his creditors, including an investment fund that won a $116 million judgment against him last year.

The latest discount to the 9,000-square-foot pad, which has been on and off the market since Kwok reportedly purchased it seven years ago, knocked $3.5 million off its asking price.

A stone’s throw from the Plaza Hotel, the apartment features 2,000 square feet of outdoor terraces, along with hotel-like service from Harry Cipriani, a maid’s quarters, views of Central Park and amenities including a barber shop. It also comes with $71,000 in monthly maintenance charges.

Kwok, who also goes by Miles Kwok and at least 15 other aliases, has tried selling the apartment several times, but is no longer calling the shots following years of legal and financial maneuvering. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February after a judge ordered him to pay a $134 million fine for allegedly attempting to move a yacht from New York to the Bahamas, violating a court order.

Kwok says the 150-foot yacht actually belongs to his daughter, and has maintained that his son owns the Sherry-Netherland apartment — a claim he first made in 2020 after he put the limited liability company that owns the penthouse into bankruptcy, and one that the bankruptcy trustee says is “fraudulent” and based on “backdated” documents.

“Kwok has continued his shell game of using shell companies and family members to plead poverty while living in the lap of luxury,” the trustee told a court last week.

At the Sherry-Netherland, Kwok’s financial maneuvers have taken different approaches.

In 2020, he tried to recoup five years of maintenance charges that the co-op held as a security deposit — amounting to millions of dollars — citing changes to the state’s rent laws in 2019 limiting security deposits on apartments to one month’s rent. A judge sided with the building, ruling that the regulation did not retroactively apply to co-ops. (The 2019 legislation was amended, last year, to exempt most co-ops entirely).

“We look forward to the sale of the apartment, and for the eviction process to resume,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, an attorney representing the building, referring to the co-op board’s attempt to force Kwok out of the apartment, which was halted by his personal bankruptcy.

The listing is with Sotheby’s International Realty’s Serena Boardman, who sold some of convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff’s real estate holdings, also at the behest of government authorities. Boardman did not return a request for comment.

Kwok fled China in 2014 in anticipation of corruption charges — a year before he bought the Fifth Avenue apartment for $67.5 million in cash. During his self-imposed exile in New York, he became an associate and business partner of political strategist Steve Bannon and reportedly provided financial backing for the right-wing social media platform Gettr, which launched last year.

Representatives for Kwok did not immediately return a request for comment.

This article was updated to clarify the judge’s ruling about whether certain changes to New York’s rent laws in 2019 applied to co-ops.

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