Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok freed on bail to appeal graft conviction

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok was granted bail on Tuesday (July 12), clearing the path to appeal his graft conviction over a high-profile cash-for-favours scandal.

Kwok was jailed in 2014 over a series of payments totaling HK$8.5 million (S$1.5 million) to the city's former deputy leader Rafael Hui, who was also convicted on graft charges.

The case shocked the city and deepened anger over cosy ties between officialdom and big business.

"Leave is granted," chief justice Geoffrey Ma said in the southern Chinese city's Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday.

Kwok was released on a HK$10-million cash bail after his lawyers described him to be "exceptional" in character and said there was no risk he would abscond.

The appeal hearing date was set for May 9, 2017.

"It's been a while since I've had such a big smile. My family, friends and myself are extremely grateful," Kwok's son Adam told reporters outside the courthouse.

Kwok, who has served about 18 months of his five-year sentence, lost a bid in a lower court in March last year to be released on bail.

Hui, the city's former Chief Secretary for Administration, was jailed for 7½ years on five graft charges, making him the highest-ranking official in the city's history to be found guilty of taking bribes.

During a seven-month jury trial, the prosecution said Hui was made the "eyes and ears" in government for Sun Hung Kai, the city's biggest property developer that was headed by Kwok, while he enjoyed an extravagant standard of living.

Hong Kong is seen as relatively corruption-free - it was ranked the joint 18th cleanest country or territory in 2015 by watchdog Transparency International.

The case fuelled anger at what locals call "collusion" between government and businesses, with many young Hong Kongers struggling with a lack of opportunity amid soaring property prices.