Donghua Li on the LaLargue fairway.
Nicolas Lurati, Michael Sahli, Georg Nopper (text) and Philippe Rossier (photo)
Former gymnast and Olympic champion Donghua Li (54) has also recently become a golf investor. The man from Lucerne teed off at the French LaLargue golf course right on the Swiss border. Not just financially. Li should also become a fixture, golf course owners reported in late September.
The course in Mooslargue, Alsace, lies in the idyllic countryside and attracts mainly players from Basel, less than an hour’s drive away. But there is excitement among Basel members. Because in addition to the balls, a lot of money was also lost on the field.
request for a moratorium
Finances are so uncertain that in the meantime it has been difficult to fill the gas tanks of lawnmowers, an insider complains. Fitness equipment was sold to make a quick buck. Suppliers insist on immediate payment in cash. Only an overgrown excavation pit can be seen from the construction of a luxury resort worth millions (65 rooms), which was announced four years ago. France requested a moratorium on debt restructuring last year. In summary, this means that the huge square is facing bankruptcy.
Now, Donghua Li is to help with a group of Swiss comrades. “Golf has been my life for years. This place is one of the nicest there is,” enthuses Li at the meeting with the prospect. And he hits the ball with power in the Alsatian sky. Li doesn’t want to reveal exactly what his engagement looks like — it’s a trade secret. But he clearly says: “In addition to the financial commitment, I will also take care of my own golf school.” And just bang the drum to attract new members.
Charges to site owners in Switzerland
Not long ago, LaLargue faced bankruptcy. and in 2018 it was acquired by French-Haitian businessman Peter Reyne (40), the current owner of Donghua Li and a new business partner. Reyne was in business and lived in the canton of Jura. And he got to know the Swiss law enforcement authorities there.
In November 2020, the public prosecutor of the canton of Jura announced in writing that they would indict Reyne! Along with the former manager of the golf course, a man from Romandy who should also end up in the dock. The charges are listed in a document by investigators seen by Blick: They include money laundering, embezzlement, business fraud and unfair business practices, among others.
For example, Reyne acquired real estate and land in western Switzerland and obtained bank loans for construction work. Only: The money from the loans did not flow to the construction site, but was embezzled. In addition, invoices were also falsified to cover up the diversion of funds. The document also mentions fake leases. The Swiss bank lost hundreds of thousands of francs as a result of the crime. The responsible public prosecutor confirmed the contents of the document to Blick. Further investigations are ongoing.
A former club member is also on the injured list: Reyne is said to have made death threats after the golfer asked critical questions, former member Blick says.
Racism on the golf course?
The owner of the golf course himself denies all the allegations, he talks about the racist background on the phone about the legal problems: “People just don’t like black people who run a golf club. That’s why they are trying to complicate my life.” The golf course was operated “on debt” even before the takeover. Corona only worsened the situation. He is ready to prove his innocence in court when the trial finally comes.
Reyne received support for a potential court case, as reported in the golf course’s internal newsletter, along with Donghua Li’s commitment: Ludwig Leblanc, a commercial lawyer from Haiti, is also said to be working for the golf course in the future. According to his own statements, he is an adviser to various ministries in a bitterly poor country. And according to reports, he represented Haitian President Jovenel Moïse († 53), who was shot dead in his home in 2021.
A golf course in financial trouble and a business partner in legal trouble all sound like a bad starting point for an investment. But that doesn’t take away from Donghua Li’s optimism. “Donald Trump often reported too,” laughs the athlete outside the question. He has complete confidence in his new business partner. He says and hits another ball across the lawn.