Billionaire HK property tycoons charged in bribery case

Billionaire HK property tycoons charged in bribery case

(Photo: Reuters)

July 13, 2012, Friday/ 12:19:00/ REUTERS

Thomas and Raymond Kwok, the billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties, and Rafael Hui, Hong Kong's former No.2 public official, were charged Friday in a bribery investigation surrounding Asia's largest developer.

The Sun Hung Kai probe, Hong Kong's biggest corruption case since its anti-graft agency was formed nearly 40 years ago, involves one of Asia's most powerful families and the world's second-largest property company with a market capitalisation of $32 billion. The charges come amid other investigations of government officials and a turbulent political transition that has set off waves of protests from citizens angry about a host of issues including cronyism and cozy ties between government officials and the city's tycoons.

Friday's charges came a day after the anti-graft agency arrested Hong Kong's development secretary on suspicion of corruption, dealing a fresh blow to the city's new leader, Leung Chun-ying. Two others have also been charged in the Sun Hung Kai case. Thomas Chan, the Sun Hung Kai board member in charge of land purchases, and Francis Kwan, a former banker, were charged by the city's Independent Commission Against Corruption. Kwan is a friend of Hui's, sources have told Reuters, and a former chief operation officer of the Hong Kong Futures Exchange. A total of eight charges were filed against the five men, including conspiracy to offer advantages to a public servant and misconduct in public office.

Hui, Thomas and Raymond Kwok and Thomas Chan all appeared at a Hong Kong court to hear formal charges on Friday afternoon. It was not immediately clear if Francis Kwan appeared. Thomas Kwok declined to comment to Reuters, while a smiling Thomas Chan also declined comment at the packed court house.

The ICAC said the offences took place between 2000 and 2009. Hui faces two misconduct charges alleging he accepted the rent-free use of two flats and two unsecured loans, one for the sum of HK$1.5 million ($193,400). He is also alleged to have received two other payments, one for HK$5 million and another for HK$4.125 million. Reuters reported in April that the ICAC was looking into payments to Hui, before and after his official role, in relation to Sun Hung Kai. Hui and Thomas Kwok face a joint charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, while Hui and Raymond Kwok face a similar conspiracy charge. Hui, Thomas Kwok, Chan and Kwan are also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, alleging they conspired together for Hui to receive a series of payments from Thomas Kwok, Chan and Kwan. Thomas Kwok's lawyer declined to comment while lawyers representing the other four could not immediately be reached for comment.

Shares of Sun Hung Kai, Asia's most widely held property stock, fell 0.7 percent at the open, but were up 0.5 percent when trading was suspended. The shares have slumped 14 percent since the March arrests. Trading in Sun Hung Kai units SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings Ltd and SUNeVision Holdings Ltd, was also suspended on Thursday.

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