Former Macau minister refuses to testify in Hong Kong tycoons' corruption trial

Ao Man-long invokes his right to be excused from taking the stand in Macau graft trial

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2013, 7:07pm

Jailed former public works chief Ao Man-long refused to appear as a witness yesterday at the graft trial of Hong Kong tycoons Joseph Lau Luen-hung and Steven Lo Kit-sing in Macau.

The law grants a person who is a suspect in the same crime or a connected crime the right to refuse to testify.

The Court of First Instance heard from six other witnesses, including a Bank of China (Hong Kong) employee and an investment chief at property company Jones Lang LaSalle.

Lau, chairman of Chinese Estates Holdings, and Lo, chairman of BMA Investment and convenor of the South China soccer team, are accused of offering a HK$20 million bribe to Ao in 2005. The bribe was allegedly to help them secure land near the airport for a luxury residential project. Both Lau and Lo face a charge of bribery and a charge of money laundering. Ao was jailed for 29 years in May last year.

Referring to Ao's refusal to take the stand, Presiding Judge Mario Augusto Silvestre said: "There is nothing we can do. He is exercising his rights."

The court earlier allowed Lau to be tried in absentia and he was not present, but Lo did attend the hearing.

Bank of China (Hong Kong) employee Cheng Tat-yan told the court Ao appeared at the bank's Central branch several years ago to open an account for a company called Ecoline.

Ao was the only person authorised to manage transactions for this account, Cheng said. Lo and Lau allegedly sent the bribe to Ao through this account.

The court also heard from Lo Hing-hung, former head of investment at Jones Lang LaSalle's Hong Kong office. The company was one of three such firms that owners of the land had contacted to find potential developers for the plot.

Silvestre asked why the head of investment contacted Lo and Lau, who were not well-known in property development circles. "Why didn't you look for people like Li Ka-shing?" he asked. Lo Hing-hung said he had worked with them on other projects in Hong Kong and thought they would be interested.

Only Steven Lo took part in the bidding through Moon Ocean which later won the bid and secured the land. Lau later bought out Moon Ocean.

The court also heard from Deng Jun, chairman of the board of directors of Macau International Airport Company, which owns part of the land. He said he was not included in deciding which company won the bid.

The process was led by a representative for a development company, Lei Pou Fat, which is controlled by the government.

The hearing continues.