Members of the Royal Family have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to introduce contacts and give advice to a Hong Kong businessman.
The Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall was paid £100,000 a year for a non-executive directorship at the Global Group of companies, owned by tycoon Dr Johnny Hon.
Appointed to advise on horse racing for a sports investment arm, she was contractually required to attend just two board meetings by telephone a year and four company functions.
Zara and Mike Tindall are pictured above with tycoon Dr Hon
Dr Johnny Hon pictured with Princess Eugenie of York in November 2017
The Duchess of York was paid almost £300,000 from a firm chaired by Dr Hon, as well as a £72,000-a-year retainer for her non-executive directorship of his film investment company in Hong Kong.
Last night Dr Hon, 47, said her main role in the directorship was ‘to introduce a few people to me in Hong Kong’.
When the Mail first approached Mrs Tindall over the claims earlier this year a lawyer acting on her behalf said it was ‘wholly untrue’ she was a non-executive director of Dr Hon’s Global Group.
It was only when the Mail provided documentary evidence of the £100,000-a-year contract between her and Dr Hon’s firm that they accepted that she had indeed held that role.
Mrs Tindall’s brother, Peter Phillips, 41, launched a horse racing members’ club with Dr Hon two weeks ago, where he will receive a salary for his ‘figurehead’ role.
The sums paid to Royals to front companies on behalf of the little-known entrepreneur have come to light following a four-month Daily Mail investigation.
Entrepreneur Dr Johnny Hon with the Duchess of York in an image posted on Instagram
Dr Hon has launched companies in Britain and Hong Kong and is behind a holding company – The Hon Organisation – based in the tax haven of Vanuatu. In recent years he has turned his attention to the Royals in an apparent bid to raise his profile to potential investors in the Far East.
In a frank interview with the Mail, Dr Hon – educated at Uppingham School and Cambridge University – admitted members of the Royal Family were brought on board ‘because of what they can do for individual projects’.
But the revelations have turned the spotlight on how Royals who do not take a Sovereign Grant manage to fund themselves. Mrs Tindall, 38, is already an ambassador for Rolex and Land Rover.
Dr Hon regularly posts pictures online of his multi-millionaire lifestyle, posing alongside Hollywood actors and sports stars.
Peter Phillips and wfe Autumn at Royal Ascot with Dr Johnny Hon and wife Vicky Xu
The Duchess of York, 59, was a non-executive director of his Global Group Entertainment Limited until October last year, on a salary of £72,000 a year.
She was said to have ‘introduced various strategic relationships’ with Dr Hon. She is also a director of British media investment firm Gate Ventures, formerly chaired by Dr Hon, which was removed from the London junior stock exchange in 2015 after a number of Chinese investors came on board and caused the share price to rise 1,500 per cent.
In April 2017, before taking up her directorship, the Duchess was paid £200,000 from an offshore bank for ‘marketing and promotion’. Three months later, she was granted a £90,000 ‘loan’ from Gate Ventures.
A spokesman for Dr Hon said: ‘The building of relationships (charitable/business/otherwise) is a mutual beneficial matter’
Last night, her spokesman said both payments were loans from Gate Ventures solely related to her fledgling company Ginger and Moss, which makes tea. He added that the £90,000 had been repaid.
A spokesman for Dr Hon said: ‘The building of relationships (charitable/business/otherwise) is a mutual beneficial matter – it is never intended to benefit one party alone.’ Mr Phillips and Mrs Tindall refused to comment last night.
Fixer who bankrolls royals: They’re the lucrative deals some of our prominent royals like Zara Tindall would rather you didn’t know about… cash for connections bought by a wealthy Hong Kong socialite
As any self-respecting international businessman knows, the old adage still rings true: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
A perfect example is the colourful Anglo-Chinese entrepreneur Dr Johnny Hon.
His life seems to revolve around posing for photos alongside the great, good and not-so-good. There are members of the Royal Family and top jockeys at Ascot. Next, he’s shaking hands with impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, smiling with Samuel L Jackson and Al Pacino or hob-nobbing with footballer Lionel Messi.
And, oh yes, he attended the wedding of Prince Andrew’s daughter, Princess Eugenie – where other guests included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss and actress Demi Moore.
In other words, Dr Hon mixes with global society’s creme de la creme.
In other words, Dr Hon mixes with global society’s creme de la creme
That said, the investment tycoon is little-known outside celebrity and financial circles.
Of course it helps a lot that access to supreme wealth oils the wheels of the Hong Kong-based, Cambridge graduate’s carousel of contacts.
In a candid interview with the Mail, Dr Hon explained how this network includes members of the Royal Family, a Tory peer and a Tory knight and is based on trading ‘introductions’ and their ‘expertise’.
The Duchess of York and the Queen’s grandchildren Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips have received, or are set to get, thousands of pounds from the globe-trotting businessman.
Dr Hon said: ‘It’s not because of their title that we work with them, it’s because of what they can do for individual projects. That’s what companies do – they employ ambassadors to promote their products and services.’
The Duchess of York and the Queen’s grandchildren Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips have received, or are set to get, thousands of pounds from the globe-trotting businessman
The flamboyant businessman’s empire straddles the globe. Educated at Uppingham School (boarding fees £38,700 a year), he lives in a £28million house in Hong Kong and has the titles of the Lordship of Chepstow and the Barony of Carlingford Castle in Ireland.
Central to his image is a personal website full of photos of British royals. Indeed, a businesswoman familiar with Hong Kong said: ‘In China, it is all about trust. If you have a high public profile, people will think you may be an honourable man and they will invest money in your business. Hon uses his high public profile and his pictures with the Royal Family and attracts investors.’
The 47-year-old’s business interests have spanned gold-mining, oil-drilling, gambling, horse-racing and the production of West End musicals and Hollywood films.
In 2016, he moved into British horse-racing, spotting a shrewd investment opportunity he believed he could replicate in China, as the country becomes more open to the sport.
The father of four says he donates 50 per cent of his earnings to charities – such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s World Fellowship, whose donors meet every year. Dr Hon says he ‘recommends donors’, but his generosity courted controversy earlier this year when the Mail revealed a members’ club he was launching claimed to offer ‘Christmas Dinner’ with Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace.
Dr Hon says the promotional material was published in error.
Nevertheless, Dr Hon says some royals have become ‘like a friend’.
One of these has been Zara Tindall, the Queen’s eldest granddaughter and as an Olympic horsewoman, very well-connected in the equestrian world.
Dr Hon appointed Princess Anne’s daughter as a non-executive director of Global Group International Holdings Limited, advising on horse racing, on a salary of £100,000. The minimum requirements of her role were to ‘generally advise the company’, attend just two board meetings a year – merely over the phone – and attend four functions organised by the company.
Describing her role, Dr Hon said: ‘Zara became an adviser or director for my sports company and introduced some trainers to me when I first started the horse-racing thing a few years ago in the UK.’ Emails obtained by the Mail show Zara withdrew from the role in March last year, with a message to ‘thank Mr Hon for the opportunity to be involved with Global’.
When asked about her role earlier this year, Zara’s legal representative said it was ‘wholly untrue’ that she was a non-executive director of Global. But documents revealed today suggest that she did indeed hold that role.
But certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time that Zara, wife of former England rugby player Mike Tindall, has benefited from her status – even though her mother deliberately made sure her two children did not have a formal royal title – given she is an ‘ambassador’ for Rolex and Land Rover. Dr Hon himself made the point, saying: ‘It’s like Rolex employ Zara as a spokesman. Obviously there are members of the Royal Family who are in public duties and they can’t do it but there are others who are open for…’ Clearly, Dr Hom has an acute understanding of how these things work.
Then there is the Duchess of York. The 59-year-old ex-wife of Prince Andrew has been behind a number of commercial ventures over the years. She worked as a director of two media investment companies linked to Dr Hon after agreeing to introduce him to the now-dead entrepreneur David Tang who had unmatchable network of A-list contacts. Documents obtained by this newspaper show she was paid £72,000 a year to work as a non-executive director of Hong Kong-based Global Group Entertainment Limited (set up by Dr Hon) from June 2017 until last October.
Like Zara Tindall, she was required to attend a minimum of two board meetings a year, as well as ‘company functions’. On top of director fees, she was paid £200,000 for ‘marketing and promotion’ from an offshore bank in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2017, allegedly relating to her role at controversial British media investment company Gate Ventures, then-chaired by Dr Hon. Three months later, she received a £90,000 ‘loan’, signed off by Dr Hon, to help one of her fledgling companies.
He also helped his business associate Geoff Morrow, 77, a former songwriter for Barry Manilow and Elvis Presley, purchase the bank in Kingstown, St Vincent, on behalf of a wealthy Chinese businessman. The Duchess submitted a handwritten invoice to the bank in 2017 while working for Mr Morrow and Dr Hon at Gate Ventures, alongside former ITV chairman Lord (Michael) Grade. In July of that year, she requested a loan from the company of £90,000, allegedly to help her firm Ginger and Moss.
When it was granted – to be paid back from her director fees – the Duchess replied in a gushing email to Mr Morrow saying he was an angel. Dr Hon’s assessment of the duchess’ role at his film company was more straightforward. ‘She acted as an adviser for my entertainment company in Hong Kong,’ he said. ‘We employed her… just before the death of David Tang. Sarah was very good friends with David Tang, so, at the time, she tried to put together a deal where we acquired some shares in [Tang’s private members’ club] China Club and a property owned by David Tang in Hong Kong.
‘Sarah introduced me to some of David Tang’s contacts in the entertainment industry in Hong Kong. My dealing with Sarah is mainly that she will help to introduce a few people to me in Hong Kong and the David Tang connections.’
A Hong Kong directorship of Global Group Entertainment Ltd, dated September last year, lists the Duchess as the only other director of the company, alongside Dr Hon. Her surname is given as ‘Duchess of York’, with first names as ‘Sarah Margaret.’ Her advisory role may yet have further benefits, with Dr Hon confirming she will be listed as an ‘associate producer’ on an upcoming film to be released in Hong Kong. The duchess stood down from her role at the film company last October. A spokesman for her yesterday said the payments totalling £290,000 were loans from Gate Ventures to help get her company, Ginger and Moss, off the ground.
Meanwhile, Zara Tindall’s brother, Peter, 41, is not left out of this royal-tycoon merry-go-round.
The former RBS banker in Hong Kong knows the value of his starry connections and links with the horsey world. A racing enthusiast like his grandmother, the Queen, he is trying to introduce his ‘City Racing’ concept – a day’s horse-racing on some of the most famous streets in the world.
He has also has helped launch a horse-racing private members’ club for investors in Hong Kong with Dr Hon as business partner.The club, Global Group Premier Racing Club, opened a fortnight ago with a dinner in Hong Kong attended by Mr Phillips, who, Dr Hon confirmed, will receive a salary for his ‘figurehead’ role.
He added: ‘Both Zara and Peter are really passionate about promoting UK racing.’ He says Peter knows China well because he used to work in Hong Kong, adding: ‘We talked about forming a club and introducing some of the investors in China to the UK racing.’
Dr Hon said that the launch-dinner allowed Peter Phillips ‘to meet some potential members’.
He volunteered: ‘Peter is a smashing guy. He is very down-to-earth and he’s very knowledgeable about horse-racing. If you are just a Chinese guy phoning them up, they might not be as responsive as Peter introducing me to a top trainer or top jockey or whatever. It depends on each person, it’s different.’
Mr Phillips’ wife, Autumn, would also appear to be a gracious host.
Just a few weeks before posing for photos together at Royal Ascot this summer, she and Dr Hon had a meal together in the Pyrenees. Of course, the pictures will have pride of place in Dr Hon’s photo album.
The dinner was a pit-stop during a supercar trek, finishing in Barcelona, organised by Mrs Phillips under her