A Christian billionaire property developer in Hong Kong has been sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison after being found guilty in a corruption trial that showed his wide influence over that city's government.
In addition to the jail sentence, Thomas Kwok, 63, the former Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. co-chairman, also had to pay HK$500,000 ($64,460) in fines for conspiring to corrupt Rafael Hui, 66, a former top Hong Kong government official. According to Douglas Wong and Shai Oster of Bloomberg, it was Hong Kong's biggest graft trial in history.
"It is vitally important in these times that the Hong Kong government and business community remain and are seen to remain corruption free, particularly when the mainland is taking positive steps to eradicate the cancer of corruption," High Court Judge Andrew Macrae said while he delivered the sentences.
While Macrae admitted that while the jury might have been unsure about where the payments came from, they were able to draw one conclusion from the trial.
"What the jury must clearly have been sure about was that the money did not come from Beijing," Macre said.
Bloomberg reported that Hui, who served as Hong Kong's chief secretary from 2005 to 2007, had been sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison after being convicted on five charges, which included taking HK$8.5 million from Kwok to curry favor with Sun Hung Kai, the world's second-most valuable real estate firm. Another executive director of the company, Thomas Chan, 68, received a six-year jail sentence while Francis Kwan was sentenced to five years.
Macrae said that the evidence presented in the six-month trial, which included Hui's lavish spending habits on fine dining, a mistress and a racehorse, "has at times raised my eyebrows." According to Bloomberg, the judge also commented that Hui could have gone down in history as one of the city's finest chief secretaries if Hui didn't have the "tragic flaw" to maintain the high life.
However, Macrae had kinder words for Kwok, who is a devout Christian, during sentencing.
"You will appreciate that where there is pain in the night there will be joy in the morning," Macrae said, addressing the billionaire.
Macrae added that Kwok is a compassionate, sincere and "good man" motivated by his Christian faith. According to Chester Yung and Ned Levin of the Wall Street Journal, the judge reduced Kwok's sentence by one year for good character.
Lawyers representing Kwok told the Wall Street Journal that prisoners in Hong Kong can have their sentences reduced by one-third for good behavior. Lawrence Lok, who represented Kwok, called the decision a "proper sentence" and "quite lenient."
Despite the sentencing, Kwok and Chan plan to appeal their convictions. The lawyer representing Kwan indicated that the 64-year-old will also consider an appeal, while Hui's lawyer has not received any instructions to do so according to Bloomberg.
Kwok and Chan have agreed to pay HK$12.5 million each for the prosecution's costs, while Hui was ordered to pay the Hong Kong government HK$11.2 million ($1.4 million). In addition, Bloomberg reported that Kwok had been disqualified for five years as company director.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Sun Hung Kai Properties, worth $41 billion, was responsible for much of Hong Kong's glittering skyline. In addition, Kwok's younger brother and co-defendant Raymond was acquitted of all charges last week and will continue running Sun Hung Kai; Kwok's 31-year old son, Adam Kwok, was appointed a director after his father was convicted.
The sentencing, according to Wall Street Journal, was the culmination of efforts by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, which investigated the men for years. Macrae praised their investigation as "second to none," adding that "a debt that is owed by the people of Hong Kong" to prosecutors and the ICAC.