The heads of Hong Kong’s second largest property developer have gone on trial over accusations of corruption in relation to one of the city’s senior-most political figures.
Billionaire siblings Thomas and Raymond Kwok, two of Hong Kong's leading property tycoons, have gone on trial in the former colony's High Court over accusations of bribery and corruption, following their arrest over two years ago during a major anti-graft campaign.
The Kwoks stand accused of providing bribes to disgraced government official Rafael Hui during the latter's tenure as Hong Kong's chief secretary - the second highest political position in the special territory.
Sun Hung Kai Properties, which is jointly chaired by the Kwoks, is Hong Kong's second largest real estate developer in terms of market capitalisation, worth nearly HKD$259 billion (approximately USD$33.4 billion). The two brothers, both now in their early sixties, came in fourth on Forbes' 2014 list of the richest people in Hong Kong, with an estimated family fortune of USD$17.5 billion.
The trial is set to create shock waves in Hong Kong, not only because of the remarkable affluence and renown of the defendants, but also because of the attention the case draws to the unseemly relationship between real estate developers and government officials, in a society which has seen a recent groundswell of public discontent over surging property prices.
According to court documents the charges against the two brothers relate to payments allegedly made to Hui in order to ensure the chief secretary would remain "favourably disposed" towards their interests, although any benefits the Kwoks may have received are not described.
Court documents state that Hui obtained the rent-free usage of two apartments in one of Sun Hung Kai's developments in the Happy Valley, as well as unsecured loans and cash totalling more than USD$4.4 million, which he failed to disclose to the authorities.
If convicted both the Kwok brothers and Hui could receive prison sentences of up to seven years.
Ties between the Kwok brothers and Hui are long-standing. In addition to being a childhood friend of the Kwoks Hui was employed as a consultant for Sun Hung Kai from March 2004 until 2005, when he resumed work for the government.
Two other men are also standing trial as part of the case: Thomas Chan, a director on the board Sun Hung Kai, and Francis Kwan, the former non-executive director of investment firm New Environmental Energy Holdings.
All five of the defendants have pled not guilty to the charges.
The high court trial is scheduled to run for 70 days.