High-profile tycoon Steven Lo Kit-sing yesterday broke his silence in his corruption case, declaring to Macau's Court of First Instance that he did not bribe the city's disgraced former public works chief Ao Man-long.
Lo, chairman of BMA Investments and convenor of the South China soccer club, left it to the last day of hearings to address the court.
"I had not planned to say anything. But after hearing how [fellow defendant, businessman Fong Chun-yau] talked about his thoughts, I have decided to say something," Lo said.
"I have always observed the law in Macau. I have always attended the hearings. I am a public figure and I have come under the spotlight since this [case began]. I want to say that I have never bribed Ao Man-long and have not engaged in money-laundering."
Lo and his fellow Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung, chairman of Chinese Estates, are accused of offering Ao a HK$20 million bribe to secure a site near Macau's airport for a luxury housing development. Both deny bribery and money-laundering. There are eight defendants in total.
Ao is serving a 29-year jail term for a string of corruption offences.
Lo has been at most hearings since the trial began last year. Lau has stayed away, citing health grounds, but his girlfriend Yvonne Lui Lai-kwan has been present at most of the hearings, including yesterday's.
In their closing submissions yesterday, lawyers for Lau and Lo criticised the prosecution case as "fabricated" and "false".
Lau's lawyer, Luis Mesquita de Melo, said there was not a single piece of "direct evidence" that Lau had bribed Ao.
He accused the prosecution of linking together pieces of "indirect evidence" to come up with the charges.
For example, he said there was no evidence that HK$20 million passed via Lo's company to a company allegedly controlled by Ao was a bribe. In fact, the lawyer said, Lau did not even know that his company had signed such a cheque until he was contacted by investigators.
"He [Lau] was made a defendant in court only because of some indirect evidence and fabricated arguments," he told the court.
"It is a fabrication to say that the HK$20 million was used to return a favour to Ao Man-long."
He also argued that the court should not consider the evidence found in Ao's notebooks - considered key to the case - because graft-busters had seized them illegally.
Under Macau law, the lawyer said, the graft-busters had to tell Ao they needed to get inside his property to search for evidence. But not only did they fail to do so, they conducted the search of Ao's house while he was detained in the graft-buster's office.
Lo's lawyer, Jorge Neto Valente, also said that the prosecution's arguments were "fragile".
The court earlier heard prosecution claims that Lo would contact Ao via a middleman. Phone records showed that after Lo called the middleman, the middleman would immediately call Ao.
But Valente said the phone records were only "indirect evidence". After all, there were no phone records to show that Lo had called Ao directly.
"The assumption is very fragile. There is no evidence to prove that. It is fabricated," he told the court.
Judge Mario Augusto Silvestre said he would deliver his verdict on March 14.