Fugitive property tycoon arrested in US faces extradition to Hong Kong

ICAC will ask US to extradite hotel mogul Zeng Wei, two-and-a-half years after he fled Hong Kong to escape facing bribery charges

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 8:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 10:30am

A fugitive property tycoon wanted in Hong Kong for his alleged role in a multi-million dollar bribes-for-loans racket is facing extradition to the SAR after he was arrested in the US territory of Saipan.

Two-and-a-half years after he jumped bail in Hong Kong, property developer and hotel and golf course mogul, Zeng Wei, is being held on suspicion of making false statements to border agents in the tiny US island northeast of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. He is wanted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption on bribery and conspiracy charges.

Zeng, 51, who was often mistaken for the son of former vice president Zeng Qinghong with whom he shares a name, fled justice in the SAR in July 2011 when he failed to turn up to face bribery and conspiracy charges in court over a loans scandal which led to the jailing of two senior executives at the Hong Kong unit of one of China’s biggest banks, ICBC.

Last night in a statement the ICAC said: “A formal request for the surrender of Zeng is under preparation and will be submitted to the US within 60 days of his arrest.” The statement also thanked the US authorities for their “valuable assistance in securing Zeng’s address”.

If an agreement to return Zeng is reached, it would be the first high-profile extradition between the two jurisdictions since the major spat between SAR and US justice officials over Washington’s failed bid to secure the return of US whistleblower Edward Snowden last summer.

An official with the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands confirmed Zeng’s arrest and detention to the South China Morning Post on Tuesday : “Currently, the defendant is in custody, charged with the account of false statement,” the official said.

After jumping bail, Zeng was made the subject of a red notice issued by the international police organisation, Interpol.

US court documents show that he arrived at Saipan airport from Shanghai on January 16th and tried to enter the island on a visitor visa. Border officials allege he made false statements when questioned by them.

The court documents also allege Zeng was using a People’s Republic of China passport that identified him as Zhiqian Liu, from Sichuan Province, adding that fingerprints taken from him matched biometrically with Zeng.

US Homeland Security agents tried to interview him at the airport, but Zeng insisted he was Zhiqian Liu, asked for a lawyer and declined to answer any questions.

Zeng has been in custody since then. Three court hearings, including one on Tuesday, have been held so far. On January 22 Zeng was described as “serious flight risk” by a judge.

In August 2011, two former executives of ICBC’s Hong Kong unit who took HK$5.8 million in cash and gifts of fine wine and a luxury watch from a client seeking more than HK$2 billion in loans were jailed yesterday.

Derick Chan Po-fui, 51, who was the lender’s head of corporate banking when the offences occurred, was jailed for two years by the District Court. His subordinate Chan Yick-yiu, 44, formerly the bank’s head of real estate and finance, was jailed for three years.