A high-profile corruption case involving the co-chairmen of property giant Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. and a former top Hong Kong government official is set to go to trial Thursday, kicking off a legal battle that is likely to refocus attention on the tight relationship between powerful developers and the Hong Kong government.
The billionaire brothers Thomas Kwok and Raymond Kwok, co-chairmen of Hong Kong's second biggest property developer by market capitalization after Cheung Kong Holdings, face charges related to alleged payments offered to Hong Kong's former No. 2 official Rafael Hui to remain 'favorably disposed' to their interests, according to court documents. If convicted, Messrs. Kwok face potential penalties of up to seven years in prison on a variety of charges, including conspiracy to offer an advantage to a public servant.
The charges don't spell out what benefits, if any, that Sun Hung Kai or Kwok brothers received from Mr. Hui, who was appointed Hong Kong's chief secretary on June 2005 on a two-year term and thereafter served as a member of the administration's cabinet from July 2007 to January 2009.
Mr. Hui is facing eight charges including misconduct in public office between 2000 and 2009. Court documents say he accepted the rent-free use of two apartments in Happy Valley owned by Sun Hung Kai, as well as unsecured loans and cash worth a total of more than US$4.4 million that he didn't disclose to the government. He also faces penalties of up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Mr. Hui, a childhood friend of the Kwok brothers, was managing director of the city's mandatory pension scheme between 2000 and 2003. He worked as a consultant for Sun Hung Kai from March 2004 before rejoining the government in 2005.
Both prosecution and defendant have hired top lawyers for the trial, which is scheduled to run for 70 days.
Clare Montgomery, a specialist in fraud law who led the prosecution team in the long-running Swedish request for the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the U.K., will represent Thomas Kwok. Ms. Montgomery has also represented former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet before a panel in Britain's House of Lords.
John Kelsey-Fry, another prominent British criminal-defense lawyer, will represent Raymond Kwok. Mr. Kelsey-Fry has represented former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks and others in a phone-hacking scandal.
Two British attorneys also joined the prosecution team. Louis Mably, who specializes in fraud cases, joined the team led by prominent British senior counsel David Perry. Mr. Perry was the prosecutor in a case against self-styled feng shui master Tony Chan, who was convicted in 2013 of forging the will of Nina Wong, once Asia's richest woman.
Apart from the two Kwok brothers and Mr. Hui, another Sun Hung Kai executive, Thomas Chan, and businessman Francis Kwan are facing charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Raymond Kwok is also facing one additional charge of 'furnishing' false information. All five men have pleaded not guilty. Neither of the five could be reached to comment. Ms. Montgomery declined to comment, while lawyers for the others couldn't be reached. A Sun Hung Kai spokesman said the company can't comment on the case because it isn't party to the litigation. Prosecutors also declined to comment on the case.
One of the key disputes is expected to be how to interpret the rent-free use of apartments, unsecured loans and cash payments that the court documents say Mr. Hui received--whether they were intended to secure future favors from Mr. Hui or just given as recognition of his performance working for Sun Hung Kai.
The five defendants were arrested in March 2012 after an investigation by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption. This is one of the biggest investigations involving a senior government official since the agency was set up in 1974 to tackle the then-widespread corruption in the government and police.
The high-profile probe came as Hong Kong's previous leader, Donald Tsang, admitted to taking yacht rides and pleasure trips offered by local tycoons, which prompted angry street protests. At the crux of the discontent is the sense that government--through favorable policies--has coddled real-estate developers and helped send property prices soaring.
Hong Kong's residential property prices more than doubled between 2008 and 2013. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stepped up efforts to cool the property market after he took office in July 2012. The rise in home prices slowed to 8% in 2013 from growth of 26% in 2012.
Sun Hung Kai has said the brothers' legal woes aren't expected to affect its business. It has also taken steps to reassure investors, including by appointing additional nonexecutive directors and by naming Adam Kwok and Edward Kwok, the sons of Thomas Kwok and Raymond Kwok, respectively, as alternative directors. Last December, the company said it appointed two additional executive directors in order 'to strengthen the collective management system.'
Shares of Sun Hung Kai dropped 13% on March 30, 2012, the day after the arrests were announced. They remain 14% below the price before the arrests, closing at 96.95 Hong Kong dollars ($12.51) on Monday, compared with a 2% increase in the Hang Seng Property Index in the same period.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images房地产大亨郭炳联与郭炳江。照片于2012年拍摄于香港。
牵涉房地产巨头新鸿基地产发展有限公司(Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., 简称：新鸿基地产)联席主席以及前香港政府高级官员的一桩重大贪腐案周四将进行庭审。这桩官司可能将再度把人们的视线拉回大开发商和香港政府之间密切的关系上。
亿万富豪郭炳江(Thomas Kwok)和郭炳联(Raymond Kwok)兄弟是新鸿基地产的联席主席。按市值衡量，新鸿基地产是香港第二大房地产开发商，排名仅次于长江实业（集团）有限公司(Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., 0001.HK, 简称：长江实业)。法庭文件显示，郭氏兄弟面临向前香港政府二号人物许仕仁(Rafael Hui)行贿换取利益的指控。一旦被证明有罪，郭氏兄弟将面临包括向公职人员行贿等一系列指控，以及最高七年监禁的处罚。
郭炳江的代理人是欺诈法专家蒙哥马利(Clare Montgomery)。蒙哥马利领衔的检控团队曾代表瑞典政府，向英国法庭申请将维基解密(WikiLeaks)创办人阿桑奇(Julian Assange)引渡回国受审。蒙哥马利还曾在英国上议院一个审判小组面前为智利前独裁者皮诺切特(Augusto Pinochet)辩护。
郭炳联的代理人是英国著名刑事辩护律师凯尔西-弗赖伊(John Kelsey-Fry)。他曾在电话窃听丑闻中出任布鲁克斯(Rebekah Brooks)等新闻集团(News Corp.)高管的辩护律师。
检控团队也有两名英国律师。该团队由英国著名的资深大律师佩里(David Perry)领衔，还有欺诈案专家马布利(Louis Mably)的加入。佩里是陈振聪(Tony Chan)案的公诉人。陈振聪是自封的风水师，他因被控伪造前亚洲最富有女人龚心如(Nina Wong)的遗嘱在2013年被定罪。
除郭氏兄弟和许仕仁之外，另一名新鸿基地产高管陈巨源(Thomas Chan)和商人关雄生(Francis Kwan)也面临串谋藉公职作出不当行为的指控。郭炳联还受到提供虚假材料的额外指控。这五人都进行了无罪答辩。蒙哥马利不予置评，记者未能联系到其他被告的律师。新鸿基地产发言人称，公司对该案件不予置评，因为公司不是诉讼中的一方。检察官对此案件也不予置评。
香港廉政公署(Independent Commission Against Corruption)在进行调查之后，于2012年3月份逮捕了五名被告。这是廉政公署自1974年成立以来针对高级政府官员展开的最大规模调查之一。
新鸿基地产表示，郭炳江和郭炳联兄弟的官司预计不会影响公司业务。此外，该公司还采取了种种措施令投资者放心，如任命额外的非执行董事，还委任郭炳江之子郭基辉(Adam Kwok)与郭炳联之子郭颢澧(Edward Kwok)为替代董事。去年12月新鸿基地产称，为加强共同管理体系又委任了两名执行董事。
此案嫌疑人被捕消息发布后第二天即2012年3月30日，新鸿基地产股价大跌13%。周一，新鸿基地产收于每股96.95港元（合12.51美元），较被捕消息发布前的价格仍低14%，而香港恒生地产分类指数(Hang Seng Property Index)同期则上涨了2%。