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HK property tycoons on trial in high-profile graft case

A trial of two of Hong Kong's richest tycoons - accused of bribing the city's former number two official - has begun. Involving alleged high-level kickbacks and millions of dollars of misused funds and luxury apartments - the case has captured the attention of the city.

HONG KONG: A trial of two of Hong Kong's richest tycoons - accused of bribing the city's former number two official - has begun.

Involving alleged high-level kickbacks and millions of dollars of misused funds and luxury apartments - the case has captured the attention of the city.

The five defendants are fighting to prove their innocence, in what could prove to be a long, revealing trial.

This is Hong Kong's highest profile case of corruption ever brought to trial.

It is likely to reinforce public perception of the cosy relationship between the city's tycoons and government officials.

Former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong Rafael Hui is alleged to have received US$4.4 million in bribes and other favours from billionaire brothers Thomas and Raymond Kwok.

The 66-year-old is Hong Kong's highest-ranking former official to ever face trial in the city.

Hui faces eight criminal charges -- he is accused of being favourably disposed to public-listed developer Sun Hung Kai Properties while in office.

62-year-old Thomas Kwok, joint chairman of SHK Properties, faces three charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

He is alleged to have given Hui a cheque for US$641,000.

His younger brother Raymond is also charged with similar offences, and also for furnishing false information.

The brothers, together with two other executives from SHK Properties and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, are accused of having arranged payments and unsecured loans amounting to US$4.4 million to Hui.

All have pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, all face hefty fines and jail time of up to seven years.

The defence team for the Kwoks will likely argue the rent-free use of the apartments, loans and cash payments to Hui was for his work as a consultant before he rejoined the civil service, and not intended to secure future favours.

Justice Andrew Macrae, presiding over the jury trial, has issued a media gag on proceedings for the time being.

This followed an agreement on both sides that publicity on the case might prejudice the administration of justice.

The trial is expected to last 70 days, and the list of witnesses includes two former ministers and top corporate executives.

Both sides have hired top lawyers for the trial and lots of sparks are expected to fly during the trial, including revelations of the benefits the Kwok brothers received from Hui in return for the payments.  

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