Hong Kong businessman and former Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung denies controlling football club from prison
- He is testifying against ex-accountant for holding company, who is on trial for HK$37.45 million theft
- Court hears 75 signed cheques were deposited into account of accused
Jailed Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung Ka-sing on Monday denied in court that he had controlled Birmingham City Football Club while he was behind bars for money laundering.
The hairdresser turned businessman was testifying against a former accountant of Birmingham International Holdings – of which Yeung was chairman until 2014 – now on trial for theft.
Jerry Ko Ka-wai, 35, has denied stealing HK$37.45 million (US$4.8 million) from the company between September 26, 2013 and December 16, 2014.
The High Court heard the case involved 75 company cheques purportedly signed by Yeung and another company director, which were deposited into Ko’s personal account.
When presented with these cheques on Monday, Yeung testified: “Neither the signatures nor the other information were in my handwriting.”
When asked by prosecutor John Marray whose handwriting he thought it was, Yeung replied: “They resemble Mr Ko’s.”
Yeung said he never signed any blank cheques to Ko and denied knowledge of cheques issued with his false signature.
Referring to cheques issued after Yeung was jailed for six years in March 2014, Marray said: “Do you still have any authority to issue cheques?”
Yeung replied no.
But defence counsel Oliver Davies countered that Yeung continued to maintain control over the company as he questioned the qualifications of then chief executive Peter Pannu and directors Victor Ma Shui-cheong and Panos Pavlakis.
Davies noted that none of them had prior experience in football management. He repeatedly asked why Pannu was paid £1 million yearly to serve as acting chairman, and pointed out that Ma was Yeung’s relative, while Pavlakis was a family friend.
Yeung replied that he invited Pannu because he was a barrister who was also “really familiar with football”, adding that he was “really hard-working” and “not expensive” compared with his peers at other league clubs, such as Newcastle United.
“Ma had a previous job parking planes,” the counsel continued. “What were his qualifications? Were you in the aircraft business as well?”
Yeung explained that Ma used to work for him at Chinese daily newspaper Sing Pao and was responsible for dealing with internal company matters, such as flying out to discuss business while he was unable to leave Hong Kong because of the court case.
But Davies countered: “He was doing your bidding. You put him there because you could control him. The same goes for Panos.”
“No, you shouldn’t say that,” Yeung replied. “The same could apply to [my successor] Cheung Shing, [executive director] Chen Liang … Are you suggesting that I can control anyone?”
“Of course, you are the boss of the company,” Davies said. “Even after you were sentenced to prison you would regularly send messages … You would tell them what to do.”
Yeung disagreed. “Since I handed over the business to Cheung, I trusted him to run the company well,” he said.
His testimony continues in the jury trial before deputy High Court judge Mr Justice Anthony Kwok Kai-on on Tuesday.