Firm in Macau case denies wrongdoing
Shares of Chinese Estates Holdings are expected to resume trading today after the company issued a statement denying any wrongdoing by its chairman, Joseph Lau Luen-hung, who has been named in a Macau corruption trial.
Lau, together with another Hong Kong tycoon, Steven Lo Kit-sing, were named on Monday in a corruption case involving Ao Man-long, Macau's former secretary for transport and public works.
Ao, who was sentenced to 28 1/2 years' jail in 2009, was accused on Monday of having received at least HK$20 million and 7.3 million patacas in bribes covering six government projects.
One of them involved tendering for five plots of land opposite Macau airport, covering more than 78,000 square metres, where Chinese Estates' residential project, La Scala, is being built. There was no suggestion in Monday's hearing of wrongdoing by Lau or Lo.
Last night Chinese Estates issued a statement on the Hong Kong stock exchange website saying Lau had informed the company that he was not a defendant in the case, had not been formally charged in Hong Kong or Macau, and had only been called as a witness in the case.
Chinese Estates said Lau also denied 'allegations in the Macau proceedings which suggest he or his company might have made any unlawful advancement or bribe to Mr Ao whatsoever'.
The company also said Chinese Estates had not made any 'unlawful advancement or bribe' to Ao, and did not believe the case would affect its normal business operations. It had applied for trading in the shares to resume today, one day after being suspended.
An assessment committee said none of the tender documents submitted by Lau's and Lo's companies met the requirement, but Lau and Lo won the bids through Ao's interference in the process, according to the indictment.
Chinese Estates said in its statement that it had acquired 70.01 per cent of the company that owns the leasehold on the Macau project, La Scala, from a third party in December 2005, and bought the remainder from a separate third party in March last year.
La Scala's name was inspired by Milan's opera house Teatro alla Scala, and it is Chinese Estates' only residential project in Macau, according to the company's annual report.
Located on the Cotai Strip, La Scala has a total gross floor area of over 5.7 million square feet.
The company aims to make La Scala Macau's largest waterfront luxury development, at an estimated cost of more than HK$20 billion.
La Scala will have 4,000 flats, with the first phase bringing in 899 flats. It will be built by 2014. The project was launched on March 29, starting at HK$13 million per flat. It sold 100 within three hours on the first day of sale, the company said.
Ronald Cheung Yat-fai, chief executive of the Macau office of property agent Midland Realty, said sales at La Scala yesterday were not affected by the court case.
'If the news had come out when the property was first launched last month, sales could have been affected,' Cheung said. Sales had already been slowing recently, he said. 'We have helped a handful of buyers to acquire La Scala flats today. Sales volume was the same as that in the past few days,' he added.
The mega development had already been approved by the Macau government, and individual buyers should not worry, he added.
La Scala's facilities include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa centre, bowling alley and cinema.
Standard flat sizes range from 480 square feet to 3,200 square feet.
It also features triplex penthouses with floor areas of between 4,300 square feet and 7,000 square feet.