A senior executive of Sun Hung Kai Properties was "shocked" to learn in 2005 that plans for a theme park on Ma Wan Island might not be approved by the government even though the Town Planning Board had given them the nod two years earlier, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.
SHKP project director Spencer Lu Chee-yuen was testifying in the trial of former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, who is alleged to have received tens of millions of dollars to be the company's "eyes and ears" in the government.
Asked by barrister Clare Montgomery QC if SHKP had "eyes and ears" in the government at the time, he said: "Certainly not. Had I had such eyes and ears I would have known how to proceed with the project."
Montgomery was questioning Lu on behalf of SHKP co-chairman Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, who is charged with his brother and fellow co-chairman Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, Hui and two others in the high-profile corruption trial.
Lu also said SHKP had planned the theme park, adjacent to its Park Island development, to be a Disney-like park with rides but changed its mind when it learned of plans for Hong Kong Disneyland. It decided to make the park one that included elements of education, fun and environmental conservation.
Lu said the cost of building the park would be covered by part of the land premium the government had received from SHKP for the residential-commercial project.
Montgomery said that by the end of last year, SHKP had spent HK$826 million in reimbursable expenses and HK$19.94 million that could not be reimbursed on building the park.
Lu said the company had signed the heads of agreement of the project with the government in 1995 and the government handed over the land in 2001 for the first phase.
In 2003, the company won approval from the Town Planning Board to vary the design of the park, intending to complete the first part by the end of 2006.
But the project hit a snag in 2005, when SHKP was told by the Lands Department that the government might not necessarily agree with the 2003 plan.
Lu said construction was put on hold in September 2005. It feared further construction would be a waste of money if the plan was not approved. Eventually, in December 2005, SHKP received a letter from the government confirming that the 2003 plan had been accepted.
Hui, 66, 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, faces four charges, including one with Hui of furnishing false information.
SHKP executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang each face two charges.
All plead not guilty. The trial continues today.