In one of the biggest corruption cases in Hong Kong's history, Thomas and Raymond Kwok, brothers and billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., and three others were charged Friday with participating in a high-level bribery conspiracy.
According to a statement by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, which brought the charges, the Kwok brothers bribed former chief secretary Rafael Hui, then the No. 2 official in the Hong Kong government, with cash, loans and the use of two luxury apartments. In return, Hui allegedly remained "favorably disposed" towards the Kwoks and Sun Hung Kai, Hong Kong's largest real estate developer.
Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reports that the alleged bribes to Hui, who is facing conspiracy and public misconduct charges, spanned a period from 2000 to 2009 and totaled around $4.4 million.
Thomas Chan, an executive director at Sun Hung Kai, and Francis Kwan, the former chief operating officer of the Hong Kong Futures Exchange Ltd., have also been charged by the ICAC with conspiring in bribes paid to Hui by the Kwoks.
The charges come over three months after the Kwoks, Hui and Chan were arrested on March 29. In Hong Kong, as in the United Kingdom, it is possible to arrest suspects without charge. In April, the Kwoks held a press conference to proclaim their innocence. All of the charged are free on bail.
Property developers generally sit at the top of the pecking order in Hong Kong, which has some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Forbes has estimated the two brothers' wealth at over $18 billion. Their company owns Hong Kong's two tallest skyscrapers, the International Finance Centre and the International Commerce Centre. The prominence of the Kwoks has made the case against them a media sensation.
In an April feature, The Asian Lawyer took a look at the storied agency that has targeted the tycoons. Many in Hong Kong credit ICAC's tough reputation with turning the territory into one of the least corrupt places to do business in Asia.
The Hong Kong Department of Justice issued a statement Thursday reiterating that any prosecution in the case would be conducted by Kevin Zervos, the director of public prosecutions and an official who has no previous connection with Hui. Thomas Kwok has retained lawyer Lawrence Lok while Raymond Kwok has hired Gary Plowman. Both hold the title of senior counsel, an honorific given to veteran litigators in Hong Kong.