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HK billionaire Lau guilty in Macau graft case

Source: Reuters - Fri, 14 Mar 2014 09:53 GMT
Author: Reuters
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HONG KONG, March 14 (Reuters) - Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau, the head of Chinese Estates Holdings, was found guilty of corruption in a land deal in Asia's gambling capital of Macau on Friday and sentenced to five years in jail, a court official in Macau said.

A second high-profile tycoon, Steven Lo, chairman of the South China Football Club and movie-and-music entertainment group BMA Investment, was found guilty of the same bribery and money laundering charges, and handed the same sentence.

Lau, chairman and CEO of Chinese Estates, and Lo were charged with offering a HK$20 million ($2.6 million) bribe to a former Macau government official, in a move to secure land near Macau's Las Vegas style Cotai strip.

Hong Kong television reported that the two men would appeal the verdict.

RTHK said that in the absence of an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Macau, the pair would escape imprisonment unless they visited the enclave. The men did not attend Friday's hearing in Macau.

The Macau official at the centre of the case, Ao Man-long, was Macau's secretary for transport and public works and the most senior government figure ever arrested by Macau's anti-graft agency. He is serving 28-1/2 years in jail for accepting bribes to speed approval of projects.

Hong Kong's tight-knit business community was captivated last year by the arrests in March of the billionaire Kwok brothers who run Asia's largest developer, Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Lau and Lo's sentencing comes at a time when citizens in both Macau and Hong Kong are expressing anger over soaring property prices and tight ties between government and business.

Lau, with a fortune of $6.5 billion according to Forbes, is known as being a serious collector of art and red wine, and he has invested heavily in London property. The divorced tycoon's love life is a staple of Hong Kong's tabloids, with Lau linked to a string of former Miss Hong Kongs.

Prior to the sentencing, Chinese Estates was in the process of building a multi-tower luxury development on the site, called La Scala, after the Milan opera house.

Shares in Chinese Estates were suspended on Friday afternoon ahead of the ruling. The stock has fallen 18 percent this year, compared with an 8 percent drop in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

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