Hong Kong tycoon and former senior official face jail for graft

Hong Kong tycoon and former senior official face jail for graft

HONG KONG - Lawyers for Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok and the government's former deputy leader Rafael Hui pressed for leniency Monday as their clients faced seven years in prison after being convicted of corruption.

Kwok, 63, and Hui, 66, were found guilty Friday in a trial which has shocked the city known for clean governance.

Hui is the most senior official to be convicted of graft in Hong Kong's history, while Thomas Kwok was joint chairman of its biggest property company, Sun Hung Kai.

Their defence argued Monday morning against lengthy sentences, citing age and frailty -- including a susceptibility to cold weather.

Both could be given seven years' jail after being found guilty of "conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office" over a series of payments amounting to HK$8.5 million (US$1.1 million) made to Hui, dating from the months leading up to his 2005 appointment to the government's second-highest post of chief secretary.

The seven-month trial centred around a total of HK$34 million ($4.38 million) in payments which the prosecution said were made to Hui by Thomas and his billionaire brother Raymond to be their "eyes and ears" in government.

Raymond was cleared of all charges and Thomas cleared of two out of the three against him.

Hui, said by prosecutors to have enjoyed an extravagant standard of living that far outstripped his official salary, was also found guilty on charges relating to rent-free use of luxury apartments and acceptance of unsecured loans.

He could face longer in prison than Kwok after being convicted on five of the eight charges against him.

In mitigation, Hui's defence read a letter of support from Hong Kong's former chief executive Donald Tsang -- who ended his term in June 2012 after admitting accepting gifts from tycoons in the form of trips on luxury yachts and private jets.

"Some of us were aware of his lavish lifestyle, but we took that as his personal choice," Tsang said.

"None of us... ever doubted his integrity and impartiality."

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Lau Chin-shek backed Hui in a letter -- and added that he suffers in the cold.

"Although I have a different stance from him, I admire his abilities," said Lau.

"He is extremely vulnerable to low temperatures and has taken Chinese medicine for a long time."

The court was also read a letter from an orphan who had been sponsored by Hui and his wife, which described them as "warm-hearted people".

Kwok's British lawyer Clare Montgomery said her client was "likely to struggle physically in a prison environment", adding that his health had deteriorated in recent years.

Kwok is "a home-loving man and a man who lives simply," Montgomery said, and his offence was "clearly not the worst of the worst".

However Kwok had resigned himself to jail time, she said.

"He knows and accepts your lordship will send him to prison," Montgomery told the court.

Sentencing is expected later this week.

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