EWAN LAUNDER, once the most powerful merchant banker in Hong Kong, faces a prison term of up to seven years after being found guilty yesterday of accepting a $4.5 million bribe. The former chief executive of Wardley Ltd, once the merchant banking arm of HSBC, was cleared by a jury of accepting 12 other corrupt payments totalling $39.45 million. He spent last night behind bars and will be sentenced in the Court of First Instance tomorrow. The guilty verdict, by a majority of 6-2, was the first to be announced by the jury, which had spent three days considering the case. It comes almost 20 years after Launder accepted the money from disgraced ex-Carrian Group boss George Tan Soon-gin, on October 11, 1980. The tall 64-year-old, known as a supreme deal-maker in the early 1980s, stood motionless and pale in the dock as the verdicts were returned. They mark the final chapter in the Carrian financial scandal, which is the biggest Hong Kong has seen. Launder was convicted 11 years after a warrant was issued for his arrest. The battle to bring him to justice is estimated to have cost about $100 million. He sowed the seeds of his downfall when, having received the bribe, he passed it literally 'under the table' to a deposit-taking company representative at the Hyatt Hotel coffee shop in Tsim Sha Tsui. Launder kicked a shopping bag containing $2 million in cash across to Thomas Bate, general manager of Impact Finance Ltd, to be deposited. Mr Bate later testified: 'He just pushed it to my side of the table and I took it from him that way.' Ten cheques made up the remaining $2.5 million of the bribe, received by Launder earlier that day. Prosecutor Bernard Ryan had asked the jury to consider the suspicious manner in which Launder dealt with the cash. When summing up the case, Mr Justice Gareth Lugar-Mawson had told the jury: 'In England, where I come from, the phrase 'under-the-table payments' is a slang term used to refer to illicit payments.' The incident was not necessarily sinister, he said, but he questioned why the boss of Hong Kong's top merchant bank would choose to hand over so much cash in a hotel coffee shop. Launder was said to have accepted the bribe as 'a general sweetener' in connection with multimillion-dollar loans granted by Wardley to the Carrian Group. 'It is alleged that, by virtue of his position, the accused had a lot of influence and control over the granting of loans and he was a point of contact between Wardley and its more significant clients,' Mr Ryan said when the trial began. Wardley faced losses of hundreds of millions of dollars when the Carrian Group collapsed in 1983 owing creditors more than US$1 billion. Launder had the money paid into an account held by Honeywell Investment Centre Inc, registered in Panama, and under his control. One of the innocent nominee directors of the company was former stock exchange chairman Charles Lee Yeh-kwong. It was alleged Launder accepted further bribes up to June 1982 from Tan and also from Eda Group chiefs Chung Ching-man and Pak Choi-wah. The jury rejected these allegations. Launder, who had fought extradition in Britain for more than four years, denied all 13 charges of accepting advantages.