No more deferments for Hopewell?

Hopewell Holdings is due back at the Town Planning Board today to make its case for the so-called minor additions and amendments to its hotel project in Wan Chai. Astonishingly the company has asked the TPB for a deferral.

This project has a very long history but suffice to say that in 2008 Hopewell agreed to reduce the size of the 93-storey hotel it proposed to 55 storeys in exchange for a land swap, and to change the design of the hotel. However, to the dismay of local residents, in August last year Hopewell submitted plans to the TPB that sought to reintroduce elements withdrawn in the 2008 agreement.

Hopewell says it wants to build a hotel with exhibition and convention facilities while objectors say it is building a convention and exhibition centre with a hotel attached. They also note that an exhibition and convention centre is not permitted under the zoning.

The objectors are also disturbed by an ominous silence from three government departments in response to their requests for information. The Kennedy Road Protection Group has written to the Lands Department, Transport Department and the Building Department with questions about the project but almost two months later have received no reply. The KPRG notes, "By staying silent, the concerned Government Departments are effectively colluding with the developer by withholding information necessary to a fair and just determination by the TPB." After initially submitting its proposals to the TPB Hopewell came back with amendments and the issue was deferred a few times until the planning board gave the company an ultimatum of two months. When this period was almost up Hopewell withdrew the application and submitted a new one in November 2014.

This was due to be heard in early January but it asked for and was given another deferral. The TPB said, "no further deferment would be granted unless under very special circumstances." How the TPB responds to Hopewell's request for a deferral will be watched with considerable interest. Surely having Gordon Wu as chairman of Hopewell cannot be considered "very special circumstances".

The Swiss consul-general, Rita Hämmerli-Weschke, has been in touch over our recent piece about HSBC and the problems it has had with its Swiss business.

She says her attention was caught by our observation that, "Swiss banks and tax evasion go together like the rabbit and the lettuce patch." She adds that since 2009, Switzerland has pursued a new financial market policy based on strict compliance with international standards in the area of tax and has been implementing this new policy "within the scope of its legislative procedures".

Hämmerli-Weschke tells us that Switzerland is currently drawing up a legal framework so it can implement the automatic exchange of information in tax matters from 2017/2018. "Switzerland is committed to combating tax evasion and financial crime internationally and expects a commitment of this nature from all countries and in particular from financial centres around the world," she writes. This may well be true but we see that Switzerland takes a harsh line with leakers of financial information.

Rudolf Elmer, who worked for Julius Baer, had raised concerns with the firm and later with the authorities about the bank's alleged acceptance of deposits linked to tax dodgers and money launderers. But when he approached the authorities with information Elmer, not the bank, was accused of wrong doing and last month was convicted of breaking Swiss banking-secrecy laws. It's a funny old world.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Hopewell seeks to delay scrutiny of hotel project again