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Hong Kong tycoon Thomas Kwok loses final corruption appeal

Property mogul to return to jail for bribing city's former No. 2 official

Thomas Kwok Ping-Kwong, former co-chairman of developer Sun Hung Kai Properties, is taken away from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. (Photo by Nozomu Ogawa)

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong lost his final appeal Wednesday against a conviction for bribing a senior official, closing the curtains on one of the highest-profile corruption cases in the territory.

The Court of Final Appeal decided that Kwok was guilty of the charge of "conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office" for paying 8.5 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.09 million) to Rafael Hui Si-yan, who was chief secretary, the territory's second-highest official from 2005-2007.

A former co-chairman of developer Sun Hung Kai Properties, Kwok was immediately escorted away in handcuffs following the verdict to serve the rest of his five-year sentence. The 65-year-old, in a black suit, looked calm as he left the courtroom with a Bible in his hands.

Kwok walked free on a $1.3 billion bail following an appeal last June, after he had spent about 18 months in prison. Speaking to reporters before the verdict, Kwok said he "slept well" last night. "I don't think of it too much."

The landmark case has tarnished Hong Kong's clean image, arousing public concerns over cozy ties between government officials and businessmen. It came just four months after Hui's then supervisor -- Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen -- was convicted and jailed 20 months for accepting favors from local businessmen.

The years-long trial revealed that Hui received the payment from Kwok "within days or hours" before he assumed the top position in 2015 via two middlemen. Hui and those who handled the bribes -- Kwok's subordinate Thomas Chan Kui-yuen and former Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing official Francis Kwan Hung-sang -- also lost the final appeal on Wednesday and were serving sentences of between five and seven-and-a-half years.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li described Hui's acceptance of the payment as a "serious abuse of office and public trust" that placed him in "golden fetters." In a written judgement, Ma said: "His independence when he assumed office would be hopelessly compromised and he could not properly discharge his duties nor be trusted to do so."

Ma noted that while the payment was made before Hui was in office, it was part of Kwok's attempt to secure "ongoing inclination" on the part of Hui toward Sun Hung Kai, the largest Hong Kong developer by market capitalization.

The company's chairman and Kwok's younger brother, Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, said he was disappointed by the verdict, and called on their supporters to pray for Kwok and his family. Sun Hung Kai's shares ended little changed on Wednesday at HK$120.70 but dipped 1.4% at one point in morning trade after the verdict.

Kwok's son, Adam Kwok Kai-fai, said he respected the court's decision but cast doubt on it. "There was a lot of misdirection to the jury in the original trial that led to an unsafe verdict, a verdict of whether the payment was consultancy or was a bribe," he told reporters outside the court.

The younger Kwok, an executive at Sun Hung Kai, defended his father. "I truly believe he's just being careless, clumsy and over-generous. He didn't have the slightest intention to bribe," he said, adding that they expected Hui to declare the payment.

Kwok also recalled the time he prayed with his father, a devout Christian, recently. "We really come to the conclusion that we may not understand or we may not even agree with God's plan a lot of time... but we just have to hold on and trust.

"Today is only one day of a very long journey in life for my father," he said, tearfully. "It will be a new chapter in life that we will finally put behind [after] nine years of trouble."

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