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Ceremony planned as divers search river for missing chateau owners

Chateau de la Riviere will press ahead with a Buddhist ceremony to mark the estate's transfer to Chinese owners, as rescue workers continue to search for billionaire buyer Lam Kok and ex-owner James Gregoire following a helicopter crash.

French rescue teams, including specialist divers, spent Monday scouring the Dordogne river for any sign of the pair.

Two others, thought to be Kok’s 12-year-old son and Chinese interpreter and business school professor Wang Peng, were also believed to have been in the helicopter when it crashed into the water near the chateau at around 19:30 local time on Friday evening.

Part of the mangled helicopter wreckage was today (23 December) recovered from the river. All aboard are feared dead, but nothing has been confirmed.

‘They haven’t found any bodies. The search is ongoing,’ Xavier Busso, managing director of Chateau de la Riviere, told decanter.com. Kok’s wife, who did not board the helicopter, ‘is still at the chateau’, Busso said. ‘She has been very strong.’

The crash happened just hours after Lam Kok, owner of Chinese luxury tea maker Brilliant Group, had agreed to acquire the 65-hectare, Appellation Fronsac property from Gregoire, in a deal reportedly worth EUR30m.

Colonel Ghislain Rety, head of the Gendarmerie in the Gironde region and leading the search mission, told the Agence France Presse newswire that, if all aboard have died, their bodies could be found ‘today or in six months’. On Saturday, a body was found in the river, but it turned out to be someone who went missing in April, Rety added.

At the chateau itself, Busso confirmed that a pre-planned ceremony involving Buddhist monks will go ahead tomorrow (24 December). The ceremony had been rumoured in some quarters of the French press to be an attempt to rid the estate of an apparent curse – a previous owner, Jean Leprince, was killed in a air accident in 2002.

However, Busso said in a statement issued by the chateau that such ceremonies are simply part of ‘traditional Chinese culture’ following an important investment.

It is intended to ‘bring harmony and prosperity to the chateau’, he said. Given the events of the past few days, however, this particular ceremony is likely to take on an unusual significance.

Written by Chris Mercer

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