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Hong Kong courts

Prominent lawyer Kennedy Wong acquitted in Hong Kong bribery case

Shares deal offered by pro-Beijing solicitor to executive director was in interest of public firm, judge rules

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 10:05pm

A prominent pro-Beijing lawyer accused of sweetening up an executive director with share options worth millions of dollars in a bid to gain influence over him in the operations of a public company was acquitted by a Hong Kong court.

Solicitor Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, 54, walked free from the District Court on Monday after the judge ruled in his favour, finding him not guilty of a corruption charge, offering an advantage to an agent.

“The ruling of the judge is clear, and Hong Kong’s legal system is a fair one,” Wong, a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Beijing’s top political advisory body, said outside court after the verdict, while thanking his supporters.

Kennedy Wong pleads not guilty to bribery charge as trial opens

Judge Douglas Yau Tak-hong ruled that the 15 million preference shares Wong offered to the late Herbert Hui Ho-ming in 2009 were in the interest of Hong Kong Resources Holdings (HKRH) – rather than for his own benefit as prosecutors had said.

Both Wong and Hui were executive directors of the public firm when the share options were granted on August 19, 2009.

The ruling of the judge is clear, and Hong Kong’s legal system is a fair one
Kennedy Wong, on being acquitted of bribery

While the 15 million preference shares were each worth HK$1 at the time of the offering, Hui only paid 12 cents per share. Later that day, the closing price surged to HK$1.33.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption grew suspicious, partly because Wong offered the shares, which had risen to HK$21.3 million (US$2.7 million) when converted months later, out of his own pocket. The sum was equivalent to 14 years of Hui’s annual salary of HK$1.5 million, the court heard earlier.

During the trial prosecutors accused Wong of operating the firm as though it were his own, as he offered the advantage to Hui to buy his loyalty.

They called it an “intolerable and ongoing conflict of interest”.

But disagreeing on Monday, Yau ruled: “I find that the defendant had never intended the reward to induce Herbert Hui to show favour to the defendant or [his other company].”

The judge accepted Wong’s explanation that the rewards were for Hui’s past contributions, and for him to remain committed to the firm.

Wong had told ICAC officers why the shares had come from him, rather than the firm. Wong said it was because it would have dealt a blow to the company’s book if it had given the shares. The judge agreed that it was possible.

“It was in HKRH’s interest [for Wong] to do so,” Yau ruled.

Wong’s innocent intention, he said, was backed by other directors who testified in court as prosecution witnesses.

Wong, managing partner of Philip KH Wong, Kennedy YH Wong & Co, a law firm founded by his father, had been arrested twice since 2009, and was formally charged in 2015. He previously faced the same charge with two other defendants, but it was dropped against him before the present trial commenced.

MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang, who took to the public gallery to show his support, patted Wong’s sister, Ada Wong Ying-kay, on the shoulder after learning of the acquittal. Former Law Society chief Stephen Hung Wan-shun was also among the supporters.

Ada Wong said she was happy and touched by the verdict. “You can count how long the matters had been hanging over him,” she said.

Ma said Kennedy Wong told him he faced the issue with a peaceful mind and praised his family for being “straightforward”.

The court is expected to reconvene at a later date to discuss legal costs, which amounted to HK$1.48 million just for the prosecution.