The Kwok brothers paid Rafael Hui Si-yan HK$4.7 million to act as their "ears and eyes" just five hours before he was sworn in as chief secretary in 2005, the High Court was told yesterday.
The allegation was made by head prosecutor David Perry QC as the corruption trial of Hui, Sun Hung Kai Properties chairmen Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and two others got off to a delayed start at the Court of First Instance.
Hui, the city's former No2 official, also allegedly received two sums worth almost HK$20 million through an "elaborate disguise" that involved the other two defendants, so that the Kwoks could "melt into the background", Perry said.
"[Hui] had an important and influential role to play in the development and implementation of government policies," Perry said in his opening address.
"[He] also had access to highly confidential information in relation to matters in which SHKP had a profound and deep commercial interest."
By bribing Hui, whom they had known for two decades, the Kwoks had a "man on the inside" of government, Perry said.
He added that Hui used his position to "further his personal interests" and said: "His loyalty to the public was compromised and undermined."
Hui, 66, who is alleged to have received HK$34 million in cash and other inducements, faces eight charges related to bribery and misconduct in public office.
Thomas Kwok, 62, faces one charge of conspiracy to offer an advantage to Hui and two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
Raymond Kwok, 61, also co-chairman, faces four charges, including one with Hui of furnishing false information. SHKP executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, 67, and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang, 63, each face two charges. All have pleaded not guilty.
Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, an older brother of Thomas and Raymond, was not a defendant or witness but Perry said he would also be relevant in the trial.
"This case is about ... the concealment of important information from public view," he told the nine-member jury. "It is about secret and disguised payments made to a very, very senior public official in Hong Kong."
Perry said Hui was appointed to serve the people of Hong Kong. "All public officials, wherever in the world, have the duty of impartiality and obligation of candour and openness ... to serve the public is not to serve yourself."
The Kwoks, according to Perry's case, first paid Hui during "Hong Kong's political upheaval" around April 2005.
At that time, Hui was tipped to rejoin the government as chief secretary as the incumbent, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, was expected to succeed outgoing chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.
That month, Hui's account received HK$5 million from a cheque allegedly arranged by Thomas Kwok and deposited at a Standard Chartered Bank opposite the SHK Centre in Wan Chai, the court heard. The amount, Perry said, was paid in advance of his succession to the key government post to secure a "representative" and some "eyes and ears" for SHKP in the government.
His brother Raymond offered Hui HK$4.125 million, Perry said. He also cited diary entries made by Raymond Kwok in May 2005 that he said mentioned "Rafael Hui's package".
By June 30, when Hui took his oath to serve the public "conscientiously and loyally", he had already received three sets of payments totalling HK$17.625 million, Perry said. One of the payments, of HK$4.7 million, was paid to him five hours before he took the oath, the court heard.
Of the HK$17.625 million figure, HK$8.5 million went through layers of transfers before the funds reached Hui.
While an SHKP annual report in 2005/06 showed that Thomas Chan, the SHKP executive director who had served the family business for three decades, received millions of dollars in bonuses, part of the money was actually disguising the 2007 payments, the court heard.
Chan, whom Perry described as an SHKP "loyal", then routed the money through his own private company.
The money was then passed to Hui's "childhood friend", Francis Kwan, who played the role of "another intermediate, another buffer ... to ensure that the disguise is as elaborate as possible", said Perry.
Kwan "did not just hand over the money [to Hui] as you might do in an ordinary transaction".
Instead he used 10 different bank accounts and made the payment - finally - to Hui in different ways that included cash, cheques and cashier orders, Perry said. Some of the money was routed via Singapore, while on another occasion he carried with him HK$150,000 cash to a bank in North Point.
Kwan was "handsomely rewarded" with HK$2 million and HK$1 million over the two transactions - "not bad for simply passing on some money to an old friend", Perry said.
Other allegations against Hui concern his previous job as managing director of the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority between 2000 and 2003.
He is alleged not to have disclosed to his employer his relationship with SHKP - illustrated by a negotiation for a consultancy agreement as well as the free use of two Happy Valley flats managed by the developer.
Hui was also offered two unsecured loans by an SHKP subsidiary, Perry said.
"There is something wrong if you have an obligation to the public and you conceal what you are doing and operate under a conflict of interests," he said.
The address of the apartments - at Leighton Hill - was on a letter Tsang sent to Hui when he stepped down from the Executive Council in 2009.
In it, Tsang praised Hui for his "sound and insightful advice" on political matters. "What the chief executive did not know was that during [Hui's] time as a member of the Executive Council, [Hui] received millions of dollars in secret payments," Perry said.
The trial continues today.