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

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