A former general manager of a KCRC department was jailed for four years yesterday for taking $2.54 million in bribes. Cheung King-fung, 45 - who earned $273,000 a month with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation - pleaded guilty to 14 counts of accepting an advantage after initially denying the charges. District Court judge Fergal Sweeney also ordered Cheung to repay the $2.54 million to his former employers. Defence counsel John Hagon said Cheung had been a workaholic and was devoted to community service. He committed the 'stupid' offences after suffering huge losses in property investments in Hong Kong and on the mainland after the financial crisis in late 1997. While accepting Cheung had achieved much in his career through hard work, the judge said his fall from grace was his own mistake. 'Financial difficulty is not an excuse. Many other citizens were affected by the economic downturn. Many lost jobs and even their homes, yet they did not turn to crime in order to keep their property,' Judge Sweeney said. Cheung denied all graft charges when the trial started on June 5 and changed his plea only on June 15 when his confessions were ruled admissible. The judge said people were entitled to expect high standards from officials such as Cheung. 'I must presume that such a high salary is paid to people at his rank to keep them from temptation,' he said. 'It seems he cannot live within his considerable means but keeps seeking additional remuneration . . . He abused the trust placed in him and has been shamelessly seeking kick-backs from consultants who want to be granted contracts.' Prosecutor Christopher Coghlan told the court Cheung, as general manager of the KCRC's property development department, was responsible for making recommendations to the department director for service orders regarding three consultancy firms, including Kwan and Associates Architects Ltd. In July 1998, Cheung asked Kwan and Associates' director Kwan Wing-hong for a 35 per cent 'rebate' on every service order awarded to the firm. The court heard Mr Kwan - who received immunity from prosecution - paid 500 $1,000 notes to Cheung on August 8, 1998. Kwan's firm was awarded 23 contracts from July 1998 to March last year, with Cheung accepting bribes on 14 occasions. Friends and colleagues of Cheung wrote to the court requesting leniency, describing his offence as out of character. But the judge said Cheung had committed 14 offences in an eight-month period. 'The bribes paid to Cheung became so regular that they defined certain codes to refer to the amount,' he said.