HK tycoon Lau rejects Macau corruption charges

AP News
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Posted: May 25, 2012 3:16 AM
HK tycoon Lau rejects Macau corruption charges

Shares of a Hong Kong tycoon's property company tumbled Friday after he insisted he was innocent of bribery and money laundering charges filed by Macau prosecutors over a land deal in the Asian gambling hub.

Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. fell more than 7 percent a day after the company released a statement saying that Chairman Joseph Lau "strenuously denies the allegations leveled against him."

The property developer also said Lau will remain as chairman, chief executive and executive director.

Lau, who Forbes says is worth $6.5 billion and has an impressive collection of art and wine, is the latest Hong Kong tycoon to be involved in a corruption scandal.

On Wednesday, Chinese Estates said it was informed by Lau that he was being charged despite efforts to have the case thrown out for lack of evidence.

The case was "remitted" to Macau's Court of First Instance "for trial in due course," the company said.

The charges stem from allegations made in the latest trial of Macau's former public works chief, Ao Man Long, on fresh corruption charges. He is serving 28 years in prison after being convicted in trials in 2008 and 2009 for taking bribes, laundering money and abusing his power when approving certain construction contracts.

Lau and another Hong Kong businessman allegedly offered 20 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.6 million) to Ao in 2005 in connection with their bid for five plots of land, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported. A check co-signed by Lau for HK$20 million was found in Ao's former home, the paper said.

Ao is the most senior official ever convicted of graft in Macau, the former Portuguese colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1999.

Chinese Estates is building a HK$20 billion luxury apartment complex called "La Scala" on the land. The multitower development is close to the Cotai Strip, which is modeled on the famed Las Vegas Strip and home to Macau's newest casino resorts.

Macau and Hong Kong are an hour apart by ferry.

Lau's charges comes on the heels of another graft scandal involving billionaire brothers Raymond and Walter Kwok, joint chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. The pair were briefly arrested in April by Hong Kong investigators along with a former chief secretary of the government.