HK property tycoon sentenced to 5 years in prison

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HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong court sentenced a billionaire property developer Tuesday to five years in prison for corruption after a high-profile trial that galvanized public anger over the city's elite.

High Court Justice Andrew Macrae sentenced Thomas Kwok after a jury found him guilty last week of conspiracy for making HK$8.5 million ($1.1 million) in payments to city official Rafael Hui. Macrae also fined Kwok HK$500,000 ($64,000).

Macrae sentenced Hui to 7 ½ years in prison after the jury convicted him of misconduct and conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. At the time of the offenses, Hui was Hong Kong's No. 2 public official. Macrae also ordered Hui to pay back the HK$11.18 million ($1.4 million) he was convicted of illegally receiving.

Kwok and his brother Raymond are joint chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. and have overseen the construction of some of the city's landmark buildings.

Prosecutors alleged that the developers gave bribes in exchange for lucrative information on pending land sales. They later slightly revised the charges, dropping the bribery charge against Raymond Kwok.

The corruption scandal shocked the southern Chinese financial center, where residents have traditionally revered the city's tycoons. But widening inequality, much of it linked to skyrocketing housing costs in the densely populated city, has instead fed public anger at the billionaire class.

During sentencing, Macrae said the semiautonomous city needed to protect its reputation for good government. Many in the city have accused mainland Chinese influence of undermining the city's rule of law.

"It is vitally important in these times that Hong Kong's government and business community remain and are seen to remain corruption-free, particularly when the mainland is taking obvious and positive steps to eradicate the cancer of corruption in their own jurisdiction," Macrae said.

Two middlemen, Thomas Chan and Francis Kwan, were found guilty of conspiracy charges. Macrae sentenced Chan to six years in prison with a HK$500,000 ($64,000) fine and Kwan to five years. The court also ordered Thomas Kwok and Chan to each pay prosecution costs of HK$12.5 million ($1.6 million).

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