Former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan led a committee to make a deliberate decision to suppress the fact that a joint venture involving Sun Hung Kai Properties was the most popular proponent for an arts hub project, a high-level corruption trial heard yesterday.
That was the suggestion made by defence lawyers for SHKP co-chairman Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong.
Hui is alleged to have received tens of millions of dollars from SHKP's co-chairmen to be the developer's "eyes and ears" in the government over the West Kowloon project and a development on Ma Wan Island.
Clare Montgomery QC, for Thomas Kwok, suggested that the steering committee for the West Kowloon Cultural District project, chaired by Hui, kept from the public the result of a 2005 public consultation about their preference for three proposals submitted for the arts hub project.
She said Dynamic Star International - a joint venture between SHKP and Cheung Kong - was favoured by the public by a wide margin over World City Culture Park, under Henderson Land, which was second.
Montgomery was cross-examining Danny Lau Kam-chuen, then principal assistant secretary for home affairs, who prepared confidential documents for the committee.
"I have no idea whether the decision [to suppress the fact] was made in consideration of a particular company," Lau said.
"I only know that the government believes we should not disclose the popularity gained by all three companies during the public consultation."
Montgomery suggested the reason to keep quiet about the public preference was to stop any advantage going to Dynamic Star because of its popularity.
Ian Winter QC, for SHKP executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, referred to a document that suggested that Hui had proposed to transfer the arts hub project to a body independent of the government to avoid collusion between the government and developers.
Lau agreed that Hui made the suggestion on July 12, 2005 - about two weeks after Hui became chief secretary and chairman of the steering committee.
The government decided on the relaunch of the arts hub project in February 2006.
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. His brother and co-chairman Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, 61, faces four charges, including one with Hui of furnishing false information.
Thomas Chan and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang each face two charges.
All plead not guilty.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday.