5 things about Sun Hung Kai's Kwok brothers and Hong Kong's biggest corruption trial

Billionaire Walter Kwok of Sun Hung Kai Holdings with wife Wendy Li. Thomas and Raymond Kwok, the billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, Asia's largest developer, went on trial on Thursday in the biggest corruption case in Hong Kong'
Billionaire Walter Kwok of Sun Hung Kai Holdings with wife Wendy Li. Thomas and Raymond Kwok, the billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, Asia's largest developer, went on trial on Thursday in the biggest corruption case in Hong Kong's history. -- PHOTO: APPLE DAILY
Billionaire brothers Raymond Kwok (left) and Thomas with their mother Kwong Siu-hing in a 2010 photo. -- FILE PHOTO: ORIENTAL DAILY NEWS
Billionaire brothers Raymond Kwok (left) and Thomas with their mother Kwong Siu-hing in a 2010 photo. -- FILE PHOTO: ORIENTAL DAILY NEWS
Hong Kong's former chief secretary Rafael Hui arrives at the high court in Hong Kong on May 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Hong Kong's former chief secretary Rafael Hui arrives at the high court in Hong Kong on May 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Raymond Kwok (front), one of the chairmen of development giant Sun Hung Kai Properties, arrives at the high court in Hong Kong on May 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Raymond Kwok (front), one of the chairmen of development giant Sun Hung Kai Properties, arrives at the high court in Hong Kong on May 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Thomas Kwok, one of the chairmen of development giant Sun Hung Kai Properties, arrives at the high court in Hong Kong on May 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Thomas Kwok, one of the chairmen of development giant Sun Hung Kai Properties, arrives at the high court in Hong Kong on May 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Thomas (left) and Raymond Kwok, the billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, Asia's largest developer, went on trial on Thursday in the biggest corruption case in Hong Kong's history. -- PHOTO: AFP
Thomas (left) and Raymond Kwok, the billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, Asia's largest developer, went on trial on Thursday in the biggest corruption case in Hong Kong's history. -- PHOTO: AFP

Thomas and Raymond Kwok, the billionaire co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd (SHKP), Asia's largest developer, went on trial on Thursday in the biggest corruption case in Hong Kong's history.

Thomas, 62, and Raymond, 60, were accused of bribing Rafael Hui, who was Hong Kong's No. 2 official and the highest-ranking former official ever to face trial in the city.

The three have pleaded not guilty to all charges, including conspiracy to offer an advantage to a public servant.

We look at the high-profile case which has shocked Hong Kong.

What is the case about?

The Kwok brothers have been charged with a total of seven offences, including claims related to alleged payments and loans offered to Hui totalling more than HK$35 million (S$5.64 million).

Hui, 66, headed Hong Kong's civil service from 2005 to 2007 under the administration of chief executive Donald Tsang.

He stands accused of receiving financial inducements that included HK$28.8 million in cash, HK$5.4 million in loans and the rent-free use of two luxury flats in Happy Valley between 2000 and 2009.

The oldest accusations against Hui date back to 2000 when he allegedly failed to disclose negotiations with SHKP for a "consultancy agreement" while he was managing director of the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, a government body, reported South China Morning Post. According to the prosecution, he received HK$2.4 million in unsecured loans from a company owned by SHKP.

As he rose to be chief secretary in 2005, he was allegedly bribed with millions in cash by the Kwoks in return for being "favourably disposed" to the property moguls.

SHKP executive director Thomas Chan and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan are also implicated in arranging a series of payments to Hui.

The Kwoks were arrested in in March 2012.

Who are the Kwok brothers?

They are the co-chairmen of SHKP, Hong Kong's biggest property developer by market capitalisation, followed by Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, which is controlled by Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing. With an estimated family wealth of US$17.5 billion (S$21.8 billion), the two brothers were ranked fourth on the Forbes Hong Kong 2014 rich list.

SHKP owns some of the city's most iconic real estate including its tallest tower, the 118-floor International Commerce Centre. It also counts Hong Kong telecom, bus and waste management units as part of its empire. It has a market value of US$34 billion.

The company was founded in 1963 by family patriarch Kwok Tak-seng. Born in Zhongshan, in China's Guangdong province, he moved to Hong Kong after World War II. He partnered Mr Fung King-hey and Mr Lee Shau-kee to establish Sun Hung Kai Properties in 1958.

The Kwok brothers are known for being extremely devoted to their mother and for their evangelical Christian faith.

When was the last time the Kwoks made headlines?

The Kwoks tried to keep a low profile, but a kidnapping episode and a bitter boardroom coup within the family made headlines in Hong Kong.

When the Kwok patriarch died of a heart attack on Oct 30, 1990, at the age of 79, he left behind his wife and three sons. Eldest son Walter became chairman and chief executive of the company.

In 1997, Walter was kidnapped by a prominent gangster. It is said that his mother Kwong Siu-hing held a secret meeting with the gangster to negotiate his release and forked out HK$600 million - the biggest ransom paid in Hong Kong history. The kidnapper was caught and executed by firing squad in China in 1998.

In 2008, a bitter battle for control of the SHKP empire exploded into public view.

Thomas and Raymond, and their mother Madam Kwong, took control after claiming that Walter was mentally disturbed and unfit for duty - claims that Walter denied. Some reports claimed that the family was actually furious that Walter, a married man, had a long-running affair with a lawyer and had tried to bring her onto the board of SHKP.

Walter was ousted from the family trust and relegated to a non-executive director post. Madam Kwong took over as chairman until December 2011 when Thomas and Raymond became joint chairmen.

There is speculation that the current corruption trial may be tied to a court case filed by Walter years ago in an effort to save his job. He had claimed that he was being forcibly removed as chairman because he wanted to investigate certain matters within the company and improve its corporate governance.

Who is Rafael Hui?

He is said to be a long-time Kwok family friend and once special adviser to SHKP.

Nicknamed "king of strategy", he was seen as the most trusted aide to Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who made him the head of the civil service and Hong Kong's No.2 official, after he was elected in 2005.

The veteran civil servant was secretary for financial services from 1995 to 2000, and even worked briefly with the Independent Commission Against Corruption's graft-busters in the 1970s.

Hui has been described as the "mastermind" behind Thomas and Raymond and their mother's efforts to take control of the family's business empire - something both SHKP and Hui have denied.

Who are the lawyers defending the Kwoks?

The brothers, who have hired high-profile lawyers to defend them, could spend more than HK$100 million in legal fees, which would mark the most ever paid in the city, said media reports.

Thomas is represented by Ms Clare Montgomery, a specialist in criminal and fraud law who led the prosecution team in the extradition case to Sweden of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Mr John Kelsey-Fry, a lawyer who represented former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks in a phone-hacking scandal, is defending Raymond.

Hong Kong's Court of First Instance is expected to summon more than 80 witnesses during the trial, which is scheduled to run for 70 days. The list of witnesses submitted by prosecutors includes two former ministers who served alongside Hui: former housing and education minister Michael Suen and ex-commerce minister Rita Lau, said the Post.

Source: Reuters, AFP