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Hong Kong property mogul Kwok freed on $1.3m bail

Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong speaks at a news conference following a Sun Hung Kai Properties earnings announcement on Feb. 28, 2014. Kwok was released on bail July 12, pending appeal of his conviction on bribery charges. (Photo by Kenji Kawase)

HONG KONG -- Jailed Hong Kong property billionaire Thomas Kwok Ping-Kwong was released on a 10 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.3 million) bail on Tuesday pending a final appeal against his conviction on bribery charges.

Following Hong Kong's highest-profile corruption cases, Kwok, former co-chairman of developer Sun Hung Kai Properties, was jailed in 2014 over payments totaling HK$8.5 million to Rafael Hui, who was chief secretary, the territory's second-highest official, from 2005-2007.

The bribery case tarnished Hong Kong's relatively clean image, giving rise to concerns over the close ties between the business elite and government officials.

Great importance

Looking relaxed and upbeat, the 64-year-old Kwok walked out of the courtroom in a brown suit and red tie, although his trademark dark hair had turned light gray during the roughly 18 months he has served out of a five-year sentence.

"When you have lost something like freedom, you know how precious it is. There are many things we have taken for granted, but they are all blessings from God," Kwok told reporters after embracing his relatives outside the court.

Kwok was freed on bail after his lawyers argued that the tycoon was of "exceptional" character and that there was little risk he would flee. He lost an earlier appeal with a lower court to be released on bail.

The Court of Final Appeal, the territory's top court, also granted leave for an appeal by Kwok, Hui and others. The case was of "great and general importance," said Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma on Tuesday. The appeal hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2017.

"I don't know what to say other than thankful words," said Kwok's son Adam, an executive at Sun Hung Kai, adding that his father would not return to the office for work. Kwok's brother Raymond took the reins of the company after he was acquitted of all charges against him in the same trial.

Adam Kwok told reporters the first things his father planned to do were to get his hair dyed, then take a bath and have "some good food" at home. "I haven't hugged him for the last one year and a half. We were separated by a glass [window]," he said.

A frail-looking Hui was blank-faced after a brief hearing held the same day. Hui, who has been the highest ranking official in Hong Kong to be found guilty of corruption, did not apply for bail. He has been serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence on five separate graft convictions.

Bail applications from two middlemen convicted of handling the bribes -- Kwok's subordinate, Thomas Chan, and former Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing official Francis Kwan -- were rejected. Chan was sentenced to six years and Kwan to five years.

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