A Canadian appeals court ruled against Concord Pacific Group, one of the country’s biggest property developers, in its long-running dispute with Singapore tycoon Oei Hong Leong over a failed US$1.1 billion waterfront project in Vancouver.

A majority decision by British Columbia’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday rejected Concord Pacific’s attempt to overturn a 2019 ruling that had dismissed its claim again Oei and his associated company. Concord has claimed they breached an agreement to build out the lucrative site. 

Two judges backed the lower court’s earlier decision, which concluded their pact wasn’t legally binding. But the third, Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein, issued a strongly worded dissenting opinion, warning that the outcome “could have an enormous impact on the business community” and suggesting the initial judge had erred and intervened too far in interpreting a transaction between sophisticated businesspeople. 

She said the court’s findings could render initial commercial agreements in complex, multiyear, multibillion-dollar projects meaningless or uncertain. “This is untenable,” she wrote.

The dissenting opinion may bolster Concord Pacific if it chooses to seek leave to appeal to Canada’s Supreme Court. 

The dispute between Concord Pacific and Oei, which stretches back to 2015, revolves around a 13-acre waterfront tract in Vancouver, one of the world’s most expensive property markets. The legal battle embroiled a Hong Kong executive at Deutsche Bank AG and provided a rare glimpse into the backroom dealings of Vancouver’s high-stakes development industry. 

The partnership envisioned a $1.4 billion (US$1.1 billion), 2 million-square-foot condo development before it soured, according to court documents.

Known as the Plaza of Nations, the site was center stage for a World Expo in 1986 that helped put the coastal Canadian city on the radar of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, who snapped up the fairgrounds for $320 million and set up Concord Pacific to redevelop the sprawling lands. 

Investors and immigrants from Asia followed his lead, setting off a three-decade property boom that profoundly reshaped the city physically, demographically and economically. Among those was Oei, who bought the Plaza of Nations site from Li for $40 million in 1989.