Hong Kong tycoon and ex-deputy leader launch graft appeal

Rafael Hui (left) and Thomas Kwok (right) in a prison van in Hong Kong on Dec 22, 2014.
Rafael Hui (left) and Thomas Kwok (right) in a prison van in Hong Kong on Dec 22, 2014. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok and ex-deputy leader Rafael Hui were back in court on Monday (Nov 2) to appeal corruption convictions that saw them jailed last year after a blockbuster trial.

Former chief secretary Hui, 67, was the highest-ranking official in Hong Kong's history to be found guilty of taking bribes.

The seven-month trial centred around a total of HK$34 million (S$6.16 million) in handouts, which the prosecution said were made to Hui by Kwok and his billionaire brother Raymond, to be their "eyes and ears" in government.

Hui was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in December, while 64-year-old Kwok - who was joint chairman of Hong Kong's biggest property company, Sun Hung Kai - was sentenced to five years.

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

Hui and Kwok's appeal comes less than a month after former leader Donald Tsang, who ended his term in disgrace after accepting favours from tycoons, was charged with misconduct in a separate high-profile corruption case.

Hui was Tsang's chief secretary from 2005 to 2007.

On the first day of the appeal hearing - due to last seven days - lawyer Edwin Choy challenged the legitimacy of an interview between the city's graftbusters and Hui three years before he was arrested.

Choy argued Hui had not been put under caution by investigators before giving statements that could later become formal evidence.

"I am saying the judge was wrong to conclude a caution was not required before or during the ICAC interview," he told the packed courtroom.

Clare Montgomery, representing Kwok, said the court failed to identify any specific advantage that Kwok had received after paying Hui.

A frail-looking Hui and grey-haired Kwok appeared in court alongside Francis Kwan and Thomas Chan who were jailed for five and six years respectively for acting as middlemen for the payments.

Kwan and Chan are also appealing their convictions.

The four are all serving out their sentences in the maximum security Stanley Prison.

Raymond Kwok was cleared of all charges at last year's trial.

Hong Kong has been seen as relatively graft-free. But new cases in the semi-autonomous Chinese city have fuelled public suspicions over links between authorities and business leaders.