Hong Kong tycoon Thomas Kwok back in jail after final appeal rejected
Property magnate to serve the rest of five-year term for bribing city’s No 2 official, but son insists his father ‘has not a single shred of intent to corrupt’
One of Hong Kong’s top property tycoons was sent back to jail on Wednesday after losing his final appeal against his conviction for bribing a former No 2 government official.
The ruling by the Court of Final Appeal against tycoon Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-on closed the last chapter of one of highest-profile corruption cases in the city’s history. But it left open the possibility that public officials accused of misconduct might have to answer for what the defence had described as “thought crime” without actually committing a relevant act.
Kwok, former joint chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, had been freed on bail pending the outcome of his appeal after serving 18 months of his five-year jail term for conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. But within an hour of his arrival at court for the appeal ruling on Wednesday, a disappointed Kwok, clutching his Bible, was escorted out to serve the rest of his time in prison.
Chief justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said, “It will now be necessary for [Kwok] to return to prison for him to serve out the remaining sentence.”
The appeals of Kwok and Hui, and two other co-defendants were on Wednesday dismissed unanimously by a panel of five justices, who iterated that the deal between the tycoon and the official was clearly a corrupt bargain that put the latter in a “hopelessly compromised” position.
The appeal, heard in May, centred on a payment of HK$8.5 million to Hui by Kwok via two middlemen just before Hui took office in 2005. After assuming office, Hui was in charge of projects, including the Ma Wan Park and West Kowloon Cultural District, where Kwok’s firm had a significant interest.
All the defendants were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office over that transaction.
Hui, who was also convicted of other charges, was sentenced to 71 /2 years in jail for pocketing nearly HK$19.7 million in bribes.
The two middlemen – Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, a former Sun Hung Kai subordinate, and Francis Kwan Hung-sang, a former stock exchange official, who were also found guilty of other charges – were sentenced to six and five years in jail respectively for channelling HK$11.18 million.
During the 131-day trial in 2014, prosecutors did not establish that Hui had actually done anything as chief secretary to favour SHKP. Instead, they argued the HK$8.5 million was a sweetener to secure Hui’s favourable disposition towards the company.
The final appeal was to decide whether this “favourable disposition” was sufficient an act for a misconduct offence, with the defence arguing that it amounted to the Orwellian concept of “thought crime” and leading to concerns that it set a precedent that would have implications for public officials accused of misconduct.
In the ruling, the judges said despite the lack of a specific act, by accepting the conspiratorial agreement, Hui had committed a continuing act by placing himself in “golden fetters” and a “hopelessly compromised” position from when he entered office to the end of his term.
“That inclination was improper since it was wholly inimical to his duties as chief secretary ... and involved a serious abuse of office and abuse of public trust,” the judges wrote.
Kwok looked down with a grim face upon hearing the ruling, while Hui appeared stoic.
Speaking outside court, Kwok’s son said he respected the judgment but reiterated that his father had never borne a shred of corrupt intent, and had not expected Hui would fail to declare the HK$8.5 million payment.
But, he added, it would be the beginning of a new chapter for Kwok and his family after their nine-year ordeal, dating back to 2008 when the case came to light.