Fugitive Billionaire Joseph Lau Will Auction Off Millions of Dollars in Art and Wine to Make Up for Stock Market Losses

Billionaire art collector Joseph Lau, who has been living as a fugitive in Hong Kong following his conviction in 2014 for bribery and money laundering in Macau, is selling artworks and bottles of wine through Christie’s and Sotheby’s that could fetch millions of dollars.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong is offering titled eight pieces of Chinese imperial porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties in a sale “Gems of Imperial Porcelain From the Private Collection of Joseph Lau” that is expected to bring in as much as HK$151 million ($19 million) on April 29.

“The name Joseph Lau resonates with collectors around the globe and it is one that stands for excellence,” Nicolas Chow, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said in a statement, adding that Lau built “one of the finest collections of Chinese porcelain ever.”

Christie’s, meanwhile, is planning “Iconic Wines From Joseph Lau” for April 13, which is due to include 89 lots with an estimated total value in excess of HK$24 million ($3 million).

“Every selected bottle is a testament to my thought, attention, and devotion to collecting only the most impeccable and rarest wines, and I look forward to sharing my top-notch favorites with sophisticated palates worldwide this April,” Lau said in a statement.

A Ming dynasty yellow-ground and underglaze-blue 'gardenia' dish Mark and period of Hongzhi from the collection of Joseph Lau being auctioned at Sotheby's Hong Kong.  Photo courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong.

A Ming dynasty yellow-ground and underglaze-blue ‘gardenia’ dish Mark and period of Hongzhi from the collection of Joseph Lau being auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

The decision to mount the sales is motivated by Lau’s recent stock market losses, according to the South China Morning Post. His family-controlled company, Chinese Estates Holdings, sold more than 630 million shares of China Evergrande last year, losing billions in the process.

None, None Forbes estimates Lau’s current net worth to be $13.6 billion, putting him at number six on Hong Kong’s richest list. Some $1 billion of that total is said to come from Lau’s art collection, which includes works by Andy Warhol, Paul Gauguin, and David Hockney.

Lau was convicted in absentia in Macua of bribery and money laundering in 2014. But because the city does not have an extradition agreement with Hong Kong, where he lives, he never served his five-year sentence.

Asked whether the auction house had any concerns about Lau using his proceeds from the sale illegally, a Christie’s representative told Artnet News: “Christie’s is committed to complying with laws and taking all reasonable steps to prevent our operations from being used illegally. KYC (Know Your Client) is a key component of our policies. This involves collecting, verifying and keeping records of the identity of all clients.”

Sotheby’s did not respond to inquiries from Artnet News.

Rare Henri Jayer wine being auctioned at Christie's Asia Pacific from the collection of Joseph Lau.  Photo courtesy of Christie's New York.

Rare Henri Jayer wine being auctioned at Christie’s Asia Pacific from the collection of Joseph Lau. Photo courtesy of Christie’s New York.

Lau, who made his fortune in real estate, started collecting in 1978, when he was just 27. His holdings range from antique furniture and gemstones to paintings and sculptures.

In 2020, Lau parted ways with Hockney’s California pool painting TheSplash (1966) at Sotheby’s London. The result was underwhelming, with just two bids before the work went for £23.1 million ($30 million), slightly above the guaranteed £20 million ($26 million) low estimate.

Sales from his wine cellars have been more successful. In October 2020, a sold-out offering went for HK$53 million ($6.8 million), above its high estimate. Part two of the sale followed in April 2021, with another white-glove result totaling HK$52.6 million ($6.8 million).

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