Corruption in China

Macau voids sale of land for La Scala development by Chinese Estates

HK-listed Chinese Estates building HK$20b La Scala development on the land

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 2:29am

Macau's chief executive has invalidated the sale of five plots of land at the centre of a corruption case involving Hong Kong tycoons Joseph Lau Luen-hung and Steven Lo Kit-sing, it was revealed last night.

The land in question is the site of the HK$20 billion La Scala luxury residential project.

Lau's company Chinese Estates issued a statement via the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing website last night, saying that its subsidiary Moon Ocean had received notice that Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on had declared land transfer contracts dated March 2006 invalid. The developer said Moon Ocean, previously owned by Lo, had been given 15 days to object to the decision or appeal to Macau's Court of Second Instance, and was seeking legal advice.

Lau and Lo are due to face trial in Macau next month on charges of paying a HK$20 million bribe to former Macau public works chief Ao Man-long to secure the plots. Ao was jailed for 29 years in May for corruption and money laundering.

Chinese Estates stopped work and ceased flat sales in June after Macau's government said it would look to reclaim the site.

Lau and Lo deny the charges against them. Lo could not be reached for comment last night.

Harry Lung, 32, a Macau investor who had spent HK$60 million to buy three flats at La Scala, said he was prepared for the worst.

"The government has a gatekeeping responsibility. If it has found out the lands were problematic, it should not approve the land transfer," he said. Lung said he might sue both the government in Macau and the developer in Hong Kong.

None of the flats at La Scala have yet been completed.

Au Kam-san, a Macau lawmaker, said the land-ownership issue was complicated, but that the land would most likely revert to the government in Macau.

He said La Scala buyers should claim compensation from Chinese Estate, as it had been accused of acquiring the land by illegal means.

"But of course, buyers can also sue Macau's government. It approved extra land sales to Chinese Estates in 2011. It misled the buyers into thinking that there was no problem," he said.