Ma Wan Park was "only an excuse" for Sun Hung Kai Properties to expel indigenous villagers on the island where it was developing a residential project, according to a 1995 memo by billionaire Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong shown to the High Court yesterday by the prosecution in a high-profile corruption trial.
But Kwok, now SHKP co-chairman, became "passionately committed" to the park a few years later, believing that the Noah's Ark design would serve as a landmark for "civilisation", "a hope of mankind living in harmony together" and "hopes of a better tomorrow", his lawyer said.
This came as the corruption trial of Kwok, his brother and co-chairman Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan and two others continued in the Court of First Instance. The Kwoks are alleged to have paid Hui tens of millions of dollars to be their "eyes and ears" in government.
The court has heard that Hui, as the city's No 2 official, was dealing with the Ma Wan issue when the Kwoks threatened to stop building the park without the government's approval of more land transport to the island.
"We all know this park is only an excuse for village relocation, and our main target is only on the residential development plus the village relocation," Thomas Kwok wrote in the memo.
The court heard it was circulated only to six people in SHKP, including executive director Mike Wong Chik-wing , who was recalled to testify yesterday.
Under cross-examination by Thomas Kwok's counsel, Clare Montgomery QC , Wong said he recalled that Kwok in the early 2000s started to be "passionately committed" to the park that he had said a few years earlier would in "no way" be financially viable.
Pointing to another memo that showed Thomas Kwok saying the Noah's Ark signified civilisation and good hope, Montgomery asked Wong if it was false to suggest that the park was meaningless to her client who cared only about making profits.
"If somebody says that, of course that is false," Wong replied. He offered another explanation why Kwok would have called the park as "an excuse".
"When [Ma Wan's indigenous] villagers moved away from the original location there would be some space or land left behind; we did not wish to see that … turned into a haunted house," he said.
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, 67, and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang, 63, each face two charges. All have pleaded not guilty.