The house, set among the green hills of Hong Kong’s New Territories, has already been subject to controversy, after Bona Mugabe, daughter of Mrs Mugabe and her husband, Zimbabwe’s long-term ruler Robert, was found to be living there while studying in Hong Kong.
When questioned how they could afford an expensive Hong Kong property, the Mugabes claimed it belonged to the Zimbabwe government and their daughter had been “borrowing it”.
Mr Mugabe has subsequently claimed the original purchase of the flat was part of a “secret government project” – but that has now been challenged by a businessman who used to be one of the Mugabes’ closest friends and advisers, who claims the house belonged to him all along.
Hsieh Ping Sung, a Taiwanese-born South African citizen better known now as Jack Ping, claims he bought and paid for it, before leasing it to the Zimbabwean government.
A raft of expensive lawyers from Hong Kong and South Africa have been hired for the case, which is due to go to mediation later this week.
Mr Ping says he bought the property via a private company, Cross Global, before transferring it into his own name for tax reasons.
In a court case likely to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, the Zimbabwe government claims it is the true owner of the property – despite lingering doubts about Mrs Mugabe’s interest in it – but has failed so far to provide any receipt. It says it paid cash for the property as it was a “secret project”.
The case threatens to shed light on the long relationship between Mr Ping and Mrs Mugabe. They were jointly connected to several failed platinum and gold mining ventures in Zimbabwe several years ago, according to documents within Zimbabwe’s mines ministry.
Mr Ping also introduced President Robert Mugabe to medical specialists in Malaysia and then Singapore, who have since conducted prostate and eye surgery on him several times. Mr Mugabe continues to visit Singapore for medical check-ups every few months.
At the height of the family friendship eight years ago, Mr Ping financed construction of about two dozen cottages for Mrs Mugabe on land she took from white farmers about 15 miles west of Harare, and which formed the basis of her now famous orphanage.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 91st birthday with his daughter Bona, left, and wife Grace Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazh
According to documents provided by his legal team, he also imported expensive equipment in 2009 for the modern dairy Mrs Mugabe established on a farm she seized from a white farmer in 2004.
It was also Mr Ping who helped the Mugabes decide to send Bona to study in Hong Kong. Extensive security was provided for the house – whether by Mrs Mugabe or the Zimbabwe government – but it was later burgled and Miss Mugabe fled and never returned.
After that, the 1,200 sq. ft. building was occupied by Zimbabwe’s consul to Hong Kong, but Mr Ping says he only received one month’s rent and it is now believed to be empty.
The well-known Johannesburg solicitor Mannie Witz is representing Mr Ping and will fly to Hong Kong for the mediation, due to begin on Friday, delayed from Monday at the Zimbabwe government’s request.
The Zimbabwe government first claimed the flat during the 2013 Christmas period. After many postponements a mutually agreed mediator was set to hear argument Monday.
“Zimbabwe now even wants a further delay to that date,” he said. “So I am going to see what can be done to bring an end to this.
“Jack Ping was very close to the first family. He did a lot for them over the years.”
The Mugabes’ relationship with Mr Ping went sour after the episode with the couple’s daughter, and in 2011 he was arrested by South African police on instructions from Harare.
Mr Witz secured his release the following day and then successfully fought off extradition to Zimbabwe.
Four of Mr Ping’s drivers were also arrested when they delivered four long-haul trucks to Mrs Mugabe. They escaped after they were released on bail-thetelegraph.co.uk