Not so authentic

By Zhao Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2012-6-26 0:35:04

A snapshot of the WLA's official website Photo: Courtesy of the WLA
A snapshot of the WLA's official website Photo: Courtesy of the WLA




A door was half open at 10 am Wednesday, in a dark corridor of a tall office building beside the East Third Ring Road in Beijing. It was the China Office of the World Luxury Association (WLA), but no logo could be found on the door.

Inside the small office with only three rooms, seven people were idly browsing the Internet.

"We took off our logo a few days ago," a staff member who declined to be named told the Global Times.

The association has recently been the subject of much debate about its real background and legality.

Which headquarters?

"The WLA, which was approved by the US government and received certification from the US Department of State, has 700 company members, and is in charge of regulating the world luxury market, including market research, property rights protection and trade promotion," the WLA China Office says on its website, with an obvious notice of "US Government International Non-profit Organization" below its logo.

Since 2008, the WLA China Office has actively organized numerous events, including luxury product exhibitions, forums and charity auctions across the country. The association has also frequently released research reports about the luxury sector, which have been widely quoted by the domestic media.

But calls to the headquarters of the WLA based in New York, whose contact information is listed on the official website of the WLA China Office, yielded confusing results.

"This is the WLA, and I am the personal executive assistant of Michael Zhang, who is on a business trip right now and cannot be reached," a female staff member who declined to be named told the Global Times.

"I don't know where the business site of the WLA is located, and have no idea about details of the WLA or its major business," she said.

Meanwhile, Ouyang Kun, chief executive of the WLA China Office, told the Global Times that he did not know any Michael Zhang. "I used to contact Steven David, founder of the WLA, in New York," he said.

Asked why the WLA employee in New York had no idea about the major business of the association, Ouyang could not offer any explanation.

Ouyang said the WLA was launched in 2008, and its founder members were from 10 countries and regions including the US, UK and France.

However, industry watchers were quoted by Southern Weekly newspaper as saying that most Western countries have their own luxury associations, and that there was no worldwide, single luxury association.

According to the website of the WLA China Office, the association's members include more than 700 luxury brands. However, a member of staff who recently left the WLA told Oriental Outlook magazine that they had never met any of the members.

Doubts have also arisen over some of the reports released by the WLA China Office. According to a report it released on June 9, 2011, Chinese consumers spent $50 billion on luxury products overseas in 2010, four times higher than their domestic luxury spending.

"The data was ridiculous and was exaggerated," Mei Xinyu, an expert with the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Research Center of the Ministry of Commerce, told the Global Times.

Zhang Fang, a former employee at the WLA China Office, was quoted by Southern Weekly as saying that the report was compiled through collecting information from the Internet and was finished in a hurry.

Death threats 

An Internet user named Huazong, who has an Internet company and is good at online information research including domain name registration, started an investigation into the real background of the WLA last month. He never expected that it would lead to death threats.

"The domain name of the WLA's website,, was registered by the World Luxury Association Ltd, according to my investigation. And its address is in New York. But the registered country was China," Huazong told the Global Times.

Ouyang said that the domain name was registered by a company based in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province before the association was launched. "I spent 3,000 yuan to buy back the domain name from the company; that is why the registered country is China," Ouyang told the Global Times.

Huazong's Weibo posts about the real background of the WLA and its China Office were widely reposted.

However, Ouyang said that Huazong was attempting to blackmail the association and this was being investigated by the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau's Hongkou branch.

Huazong later said on Weibo that he had received death threats from thugs hired by Ouyang, and that he had fled to Vietnam.


A poster of the Van Cleef & Arpels store in Beijing Photo: CFP
A poster of the Van Cleef & Arpels store in Beijing Photo: CFP



Profit motive

In 2008, Ouyang registered WLA (Beijing) International Business Management Ltd, which frequently held luxury product exhibitions and auctions under the name of the WLA China Office.

This kind of exhibition is very popular in China's second- and third-tier cities, and participants such as watch brands and wine companies would pay up to 100,000 yuan to participate, Zhang Fan, who used to work for the WLA China Office, was quoted as saying by Southern Weekly.

Charging membership fees to domestic brands and raising funds via charity auctions are also ways for the company to make money.

The WLA China Office also cooperated with real estate developers, who had to pay the association if their project was ranked as a "luxurious residence." But on the WLA China Office website, it pledges that it is a non-profit association.

"It is legal. WLA (Beijing) International Business Management Ltd can earn money, and the WLA is just a brand," Ouyang told the Global Times.

"The WLA is working for profits, and is suspected of tax evasion," Huazong was quoted by Oriental Outlook magazine as saying earlier this month.

No official feedback from the Beijing Administration For Industry and Commerce, and Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau's Hongkou branch was available by press time.

The employee at the WLA China Office said he was also confused about the association's real background and legality.

"Nearly half of my colleagues have resigned or left the office without explanation since the queries started appearing," said the employee.

"I don't know how much longer I will work here," he sighed.


Posted in: Insight

blog comments powered by Disqus