Singapore ‘Fort Knox’ sold to Chinese crypto billionaire Wu Jihan

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SINGAPORE — Le Freeport, a pri­vate, max­i­mum-secu­ri­ty vault for fine art, pre­cious gems and stash­es of gold and sil­ver, has been sold to Chi­nese cryp­to bil­lion­aire Wu Jihan.

His Bit­deer Tech­nolo­gies Hold­ing spent $40 mil­lion on the vault, dubbed Asi­a’s Fort Knox, accord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the matter.

Mr Wu acquired the repos­i­to­ry from share­hold­ers led by Swiss art deal­er and founder Yves Bou­vi­er, the peo­ple said.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Mr Bou­vi­er declined to com­ment. Mr Wu con­firmed the trans­ac­tion in a text mes­sage in response to queries from Bloomberg News. The pur­chase took place in July, accord­ing to records with the account­ing regulator.

Mr Wu, who has long-term res­i­den­cy in Sin­ga­pore, is con­sid­ered one of the most influ­en­tial peo­ple in cryp­tocur­ren­cy mar­kets, hav­ing co-found­ed the world’s largest min­er Bit­main Tech­nolo­gies. He relin­quished con­trol of the Bei­jing-based com­pa­ny ear­ly last year.

‘Fully committed’

Mr Wu’s acqui­si­tion ends years of Mr Bou­vier’s trou­bled attempts to sell Freeport. The price Mr Wu paid rep­re­sents a sharp dis­count to the $100 mil­lion it cost to build the facil­i­ty, which sits on a large tract of gov­ern­ment land with direct access to the run­ways of Chan­gi Airport. 

Freeport opened in 2010 to fan­fare as part of Sin­ga­pore’s push to lure lux­u­ry col­lec­tors, wealth man­agers and bul­lion-trad­ing banks includ­ing JPMor­gan Chase & Co and UBS Group.

But the cli­mate changed a few years ago when Chi­na’s clam­p­down on lux­u­ry spend­ing and an eco­nom­ic slow­down in the region curbed demand for high-val­ue items, while an exo­dus by many banks from their phys­i­cal com­mod­i­ty busi­ness from 2014 reduced the need for bul­lion storage.

The low, flat build­ing was designed by Swiss archi­tects Bene­dicte Mon­tant and Carme­lo Sten­dar­do and includes ener­gy-sav­ing fea­tures such as ther­mal insu­la­tion and veg­e­ta­tion-cov­ered walls to help main­tain the pre­cise tem­per­a­tures and humid­i­ty lev­els inside. A 38m-long sculp­ture of pol­ished steel by Israeli artist Ron Arad greets vis­i­tors at the lob­by once they have passed secu­ri­ty checks and a body scan.

About three-quar­ters of the total price went to cred­i­tors includ­ing DBS Group Hold­ings, accord­ing to one of the peo­ple. After repay­ing debt and costs, Mr Bou­vi­er, who held 70 per cent of Freeport, got about $5 mil­lion from the sale, togeth­er with oth­er shareholders.

The new own­ers are “ful­ly com­mit­ted” to sup­port­ing the Freeport Group with a view to expand­ing and improv­ing the facil­i­ties and ser­vices, accord­ing to a let­ter signed by Freeport chief exec­u­tive offi­cer Lin­coln Ng to reas­sure ten­ants that there would no disruptions.

Mr Wu, who turns 36 this year, con­trols Bit­deer, a cloud-min­ing ser­vice that was spun off from Bit­main. It oper­ates pro­pri­etary min­ing data cen­tres in the Unit­ed States and Nor­way, and was seek­ing a US list­ing in a spe­cial pur­pose acqui­si­tion com­pa­ny deal.

Bit­deer is the sole share­hold­er of Strait­deer, which in turn owns Asia Freeport Hold­ings, the enti­ty con­trol­ling Le Freeport, accord­ing to records with the account­ing regulator.

Asia Freeport report­ed a loss of $14.3 mil­lion in 2018, based on the lat­est pub­licly avail­able finan­cial state­ment. BLOOMBERG

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