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 US$32 billion.
The charges involve payments and unsecured loans of more than US$4 million and come amid other investigations of government officials and a turbulent political transition that has set off waves of protests from Hong Kong citizens angry about a host of issues including cronyism and cosy 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 former chief operation officer of the Hong Kong Futures Exchange.
A total of eight charges were filed against the five men, who appeared before a Hong Kong judge on Friday and said they understood the charges, including conspiracy to offer advantages to a public servant and misconduct in public office.
Hui, who was calm throughout the half-hour proceeding, was named in each of the eight charges in connection with alleged payments and unsecured loans totalling about HK$34 million (US$4.38 million).
Raymond Kwok delivered a statement on the courthouse steps, saying “I firmly believe I haven’t done anything wrong. The Hong Kong judicial system is very fair. I will do my best to defend myself against those accusations. My goal is to prove my innocence.”
Thomas Kwok declined to comment and Thomas Chan also declined comment.
The magistrate hearing the case ordered Hui and Kwan to surrender their travel documents and remain in Hong Kong. Public prosecutor Kevin Zervos said Kwan was “a flight risk.”
All five were released on bail and ordered not to contact a list of prosecution witnesses given to the court. The case was then adjourned until October 12.
The ICAC said the alleged offences took place between 2000 and 2009, with six linked to Hui’s tenure as Hong Kong’s chief secretary. Hui faces two misconduct charges alleging he accepted rent-free use of two flats while head of Hong Kong’s retirement authority and two unsecured loans.
He is also alleged to have accepted payments to “wilfully misconduct himself” to be “favourably disposed” to Raymond and Thomas Kwok and their interests and to Thomas Chan, according to the charges.
Reuters reported in April the ICAC was investigating 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 faces a similar 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.
Shares of Sun Hung Kai, Asia’s most widely held property stock, fell 0.7 per cent at the open, but were up 0.5 per cent when trading was suspended. The shares have slumped 14 per cent since the March arrests. Trading in Sun Hung Kai units SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings Ltd and SUNeVision Holdings Ltd, was also suspended on Thursday.
Sun Hung Kai has applied for permission to restart trading on Monday.