HONG KONG: Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok and its former deputy leader were jailed for corruption on Tuesday after a blockbuster trial that shocked the city and deepened anger at cosy ties between officialdom and big business.
Hui, 66, was jailed for seven and a half years after being convicted on five graft charges, including misconduct in a public office, making him the highest-ranking official in Hong Kong’s history to be found guilty of taking bribes.
Kwok, 63 — who was joint chairman of the southern Chinese city’s biggest property company, Sun Hung Kai — was sentenced to five years after he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office over a series of payments totalling HK$8.5 million (US$1.1 million) to former chief secretary Hui.
The sentences come as resentment grows among the public over the cosy relationship between the government and the city’s business elite.
Hong Kong’s widening wealth gap and social inequality partly underpinned mass pro-democracy protests that brought parts of the city to a standstill for months until rally sites were cleared last week.
With soaring property and rental prices and stagnant wages, there is rising anger over a lack of opportunity for ordinary residents, particularly among young Hong Kongers.
“Members of the public have had a perception of business-government collusion for some time,” said political analyst Sonny Lo, of the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
“This case proves that such public perception has some validity.”
The seven-month graft trial centred around a total of HK$34 million in handouts, which the prosecution said were made to Hui by Thomas Kwok and his billionaire brother Raymond to be their “eyes and ears” in government.
Raymond was cleared of all charges and Thomas cleared of two out of the three against him.
Judge Andrew Macrae had strong words for Hui ahead of sentencing.
“To know that the former number two in government had received bribes must be a deep disappointment to many people in Hong Kong,” Macrae said.
“It is vitally important in these times the Hong Kong government and business community remain — and are seen to remain — corruption free, particularly when the mainland is taking obvious and positive steps to eradicate the cancer of corruption in their own jurisdiction.”
He said Hui had been “blinded by the desire to sustain the high life”.
The former deputy leader, who prosecutors said enjoyed an extravagant standard of living that far outstripped his official salary, was also found guilty on charges relating to the use of luxury apartments rent-free and accepting unsecured loans.
He was ordered to pay a fine of HK$11.182 million — the sum of one of the payments he was found guilty of receiving.
In sentencing Kwok, Macrae said that he had no doubt that he was “at heart a good man”.
Macrae said he had considered a maximum sentence of six years, but handed down one year less to account for Kwok’s good character.
He was fined HK$500,000 and disqualified from any company directorship for five years after resigning from Sun Hung Kai on Friday.
One of his lawyers, Lawrence Lok, told reporters that Kwok plans to appeal the judgement.
Ahead of the sentencing hearing, Macrae described the case as “difficult”.
“One is dealing with otherwise decent men who are not young, but who have committed serious offences,” he said, adding that going to prison would be a “particular hardship” for the defendants.
Kwok waved to his family who were hugging each other after hearing his fate, telling them to “be good”.
The payments to Hui were said to have been made by a series of complicated transactions involving middlemen.
Two of them — Sun Hung Kai former director Thomas Chan and Francis Kwan, the former non-executive director of investment firm New Environmental Energy Holdings — were also found guilty on two charges.
Chan was sentenced to six years while Francis Kwan was given five years. Both men are also in their 60s.