Hong Kong tycoon denies wrongdoing over Macau case

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 17, 2012 1:03 PM
Hong Kong tycoon denies wrongdoing over Macau case

By Stephen Aldred and Alison Leung

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong property developer whose name was mentioned as a witness in a Macau corruption trial has denied any suggestion of wrongdoing linked to the case brought against a former Macau government official.

Joseph Lau, chairman of Chinese Estates Holdings, was one of two Hong Kong tycoons mentioned in the case in nearby Macau, which comes at a sensitive time in Hong Kong after a series of scandals that have rocked the financial centre.

No charges were brought against Lau or the other Hong Kong tycoon, Steven Lo, chairman of BMA Investment and South China Football Club. Lo was not immediately available for comment.

The Macau court did not say there had been any wrongdoing on the part of either of them in the trial of Ao Man-long, the former official who, according to a court statement, is accused of receiving bribes and money laundering.

Ao is already serving a 28-year jail term for taking bribes.

Lau's company, Chinese Estates Holdings, said in a statement that he had been requested to attend the Macau Court of Final Appeal only as a witness and had not been charged.

"He denies the allegations in the Macau proceedings which suggest he or his company might have made an unlawful advancement or bribe to Mr. Ao whatsoever," the statement said.

Shares in Chinese Estates Holdings were suspended on Tuesday and are set to resume trading on Wednesday.

A company in which Lau and Lo are invested was among three bidders that submitted tenders in 2004 for five parcels of land opposite Macau's airport, Macau's Court of Final Appeal heard from the prosecution.

An assessment committee had found that none of the tenders met requirements. Lau and Lo's company, which was not named, won the tender after Ao became involved and received a bribe of HK$20 million ($2.6 million), the prosecution said.

There was no suggestion in the trial that this was with the knowledge of Lau or Lo or that they had done anything wrong.

In March 2011, Chinese Estates bought the remaining 29.99 percent stake it did not hold in Moon Ocean, the owner of a leasehold interest in land near Macau's airport, the company's interim report showed.

Chinese Estates plans to develop the site in Macau into a high-end residential project with a total residential gross floor area of about 5.79 million square feet.

"Ao was the only person being charged in the trial yesterday and the case will be heard again tomorrow," a Macau government official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Portugal handed back Macau, now the world's largest gaming destination, on the other side of the Pearl Estuary to Hong Kong, to China two years later.

The Macau case comes less than a month after Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested the co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties, the city's largest developer in terms of market value, on suspicion of corruption.

No charges have been laid against billionaire brothers Raymond and Thomas Kwok.

Hong Kong's leadership race was also marred by scandals, which have sparked anger over the tight links between tycoons and the city's leaders.

(Reporting by Alison Leung and Stephen Aldred; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)