HONG KONG (AP) — Two Hong Kong billionaire brothers accused of bribing a top official in the Chinese financial center funneled millions to him through middlemen to gain an edge for their property business, a prosecutor said Thursday.
In his opening statement for the high profile corruption case, Prosecutor David Perry said that Thomas and Raymond Kwok routed secret payments to Rafael Hui from 2005 to 2007, during his tenure as Hong Kong's chief secretary.
Perry said payments were disguised by first sending them to two other people also on trial.
The Kwok brothers, their alleged middlemen and Hui all deny a total of eight corruption and misconduct charges involving about 34 million Hong Kong dollars ($4.4 million) in bribes and unsecured loans.
"This case is about the making and receiving of secret and disguised payments involving an abuse of office," Perry said. Hui's loyalty to Hong Kong was "undermined because he was in the pay of property developers," he said.
Hong Kong's biggest graft case in decades has shocked the former British colony, where rule of law and clean governance have traditionally been points of pride. The case has also fed rising resentment of the city's tycoons, many with fortunes from property development, over surging house prices.
The Kwoks are managing directors of Sun Hung Kai Properties, which is one of the world's biggest real estate developers by market value. The brothers are worth a combined $17.5 billion, making them Hong Kong's fourth richest, according to Forbes.
Some HK$19.5 million in payments were made to one of the middlemen, longtime Sun Hung Kai employee Thomas Chan, Perry said. Through his private company, Chan briefly routed the money offshore and then to a second middleman, Francis Kwan, a childhood friend of Hui's, the court heard.
Kwan broke the money down into smaller payments to send to Hui, including HK$150,000 in cash carried by hand through a Hong Kong neighborhood, Perry said.
"Some of the defendants are very good friends and clearly they trusted each other to keep the payments secret," said Perry.