Stage set for biggest graft trial in Hong Kong history

Former chief secretary Rafael Hui and property tycoon Kwok brothers face multiple charges in HK$34m corruption case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 12:08pm

All eyes will be on the Court of First Instance today as the city's former No 2 official and the co-chairmen of one of the world's major real estate firms face trial in the biggest corruption court case in Hong Kong's history.

At issue is the HK$34 million in bribes and other financial inducements that former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan allegedly received from billionaire brothers Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, the chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP).

Prominent names in government and business are among the 82 prosecution witnesses listed for a case that has become a cause célèbre for the Independent Commission Against Corruption and prosecution officials.

Scheduled to last 70 days, the trial before Mr Justice Andrew Macrae begins more than two years after Hui and the Kwoks were arrested in March 2012.

Listed as the first defendant, Hui stands accused of receiving financial inducements that included HK$28.8 million in cash, HK$5.4 million in loans and the rent-free use of two luxury flats in Happy Valley when he held key government positions between 2000 and 2009. Hui, 66, is the highest-ranking former official ever to face trial in the city.

According to the latest indictment issued by the prosecution in February, Hui faces eight criminal charges, five of which he shares with either or both of the Kwoks. They include conspiracy to offer an advantage to a public servant, misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

The oldest accusations against Hui date back to 2000 when, it is alleged, he failed to disclose negotiations with SHKP for a "consultancy agreement" while he was managing director of the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, a government body. The prosecution also says Hui received HK$2.4 million in unsecured loans from a company owned by SHKP.

As he rose to be chief secretary in 2005 under the administration of chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Hui was allegedly bribed with cash by the Kwoks. Prosecutors will say that the elder brother, Thomas, gave Hui a cheque for HK$5 million. In return, it is alleged that Hui was expected to be "favourably disposed" to the property magnate during his tenure as chief secretary from 2005 to 2007.

Raymond Kwok is accused of bribing Hui with HK$4.125 million in the same period. Raymond Kwok and Hui are jointly charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Raymond Kwok and Hui also face a charge of furnishing false information contained in an invoice for the same sum. The invoice was "in respect of services ... from April 2005 to February 2006, and to be paid in recognition of Rafael Hui's excellent performance over the past 13 months", according to the indictment.

Two other bribery charges also concern other defendants, and cover Hui's tenure as chief secretary and, subsequently, as a non-official member of the Executive Council until 2009.

The brothers and Hui are accused of conspiring with SHKP executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang to commit misconduct in public office. The four are alleged to have arranged a series of payments totalling HK$8.5 million to induce Hui to remain favourably disposed to SHKP. Another charge facing all five is conspiracy to offer an advantage - HK$11.182 million worth of payments - to Hui as a public servant.

The eldest Kwok brother, Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, was arrested by graft-busters in 2012 but was not named as a defendant or witness by the prosecution. Walter Kwok resigned from his position as a non-executive director of SHKP in January.

The list of witnesses submitted by prosecutors includes two ex-ministers who served alongside Hui: former housing and education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung and ex-commerce minister Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan.

Former Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chairman Charles Lee Yeh-kwong, Adeline Wong Ching-man, former undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs and Hui's administrative assistant, and Alice Lau Yim, permanent secretary in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office, will also testify.