Zhong inquiry: woman killed in home, police confirm

An Auckland businesswoman involved with a Central Otago winery was killed in her home and her body placed in her vehicle, police have confirmed.

Elizabeth Zhong is believed to have been murdered. Photo: supplied
Elizabeth Zhong is believed to have been murdered. Photo: supplied
Ying Zhong (also known as Elizabeth Zhong)  is believed to have been murdered last week.

The 55-year-old was reported missing from her home in Suzetta Place, Sunnyhills, on Saturday November 28, and her body was found in the boot of a car on a few streets away that day.

Acting Detective Inspector Shaun Vickers said police have formally identified Zhong and that she was killed in her house.

The woman was then placed in her Land Rover and items from the house were placed over her, Vickers said. He did not reveal what the items were.

The scene examination is continuing and will for some time, Vickers said.

The investigation is focusing on the evening of Friday, November 27 to  Saturday, November 28. The last confirmed sighting is Zhong alive at home at 4.30pm on Friday.

"We have a team of detectives working on the investigation and we're making progress every day," Vickers said.

A phone call to police was made by a close associate of Elizabeth, Vickers said. Police were called to the property about 10am on November 28 and located her in the boot of her Land Rover.

Asked what time she died, he said they were focusing their inquiry on 4.30pm on Friday to approximately  10am on Saturday when the vehicle was found.

CCTV-based inquiries are taking place in the area of her home.

Asked about sightings of an unknown male near Elizabeth's house, Vickers said: "I'm aware of that info. The investigation team is keeping an open mind, but it is early days and we need to prioritise ... it will form part of the investigation."

DID KILLER LEAVE NZ?

Meanwhile, police will not say whether they have checked the lists of airline passengers who left New Zealand in the hours after Zhong's murder.

Vickers said police have contacted the Chinese Consulate in Auckland about the case.

"As the investigation progresses, there will be further inquiries made with Chinese-based agencies."

But asked whether he was concerned that anyone connected with the murder may have absconded overseas, he said: "I'm not going to speculate on who may or may not be involved."

Asked whether police had placed a block on anyone leaving the country, and whether they were working with Interpol, he said: "I can't make any comment."

A spokesman later declined to say whether airline passenger lists had been checked, saying: "Police are following a number of lines of inquiries as part of this investigation, but we won't be commenting further around specific details of that."

Vickers said police would be interested in any sightings of Zhong's black Land Rover between 4.30pm on Friday and 10am on Saturday.

Anyone with information that may assist the investigation can contact police on 105 and quote the file number 201128/1909. Information can also be provided anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

BUSINESS DIFFICULTIES 

Questions remain over how business went so badly in recent years for Zhong.

The East Auckland grandmother took over post-production house Digipost and an associated $7 million property in 2017.

On Friday, a person familiar with the Digipost deal rejected claims there was a lack of due diligence when Zhong bought the company.

Instead, the person described detailed, drawn-out negotiations and said Zhong was sincere and ambitious about making movies.

But a source said Zhong's inability to make projects succeed in recent years was problematic and ultimately put the company in jeopardy.

Other enterprises Zhong was previously involved with included Kennedy Point Vineyard on Waiheke Island and Carrick Wines in Central Otago.

One vineyard staffer said Zhong had had nothing to do with the Waiheke organic winemaker since liquidators took over last December.

Zhong's Sunbow Group described itself online as previously running the vineyards and the Digipost film production company.

All three businesses were recently sold or placed into receivership or liquidation.

Some people familiar with Zhong described her as kind-hearted, dynamic and likeable.

"She was a warm and generous person," Digipost founder and former owner Garry Little said on Friday.

"She'd always remember people's birthdays."

In February 2019 Zhong announced "reluctant' plans to sell her Carrick vineyard and winery, describing it as her "dream vineyard".

On October 30 this year, Andrew McKay and Andrew Bethell of BDO were appointed as Sunbow's receivers.

Bethell earlier this week said he was "very saddened" to hear of Zhong's death and his thoughts went out to those who knew her and to her family. He declined to discuss the company's level of debt.

 

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