- Magistrate says ICAC fails to prove that HK$150,000 was paid to Gwee in relation to the handling of former Singfor boss' accounts at the bank
- Money was for purchase of rare wines, says defence
- Bank transfer hardly a clandestine corrupt payment
SINGAPORE - Media OutReach - 3 December 2018 - A magistrate court in Hong Kong has acquitted former Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) private banking head Ryan Gwee Yuan Kerr of a bribery charge brought by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Magistrate Lam Tsz-kan of Hong Kong's Eastern Magistrates' Courts dismissed the ICAC charge on 9 October 2018 after a hearing.
Mr Gwee, who is now Co-founder and CEO of private equity firm Asia Capital Pioneers Group (ACPG), said: "It is a huge relief to be cleared of this baseless charge. While I was always confident that the ICAC case would be dismissed, it was still no joy to have to defend myself against a false and serious accusation, and to have to live with this terrible uncertainty for 10 months.
"Nevertheless, I am grateful to everyone who stuck with me during this period, including my family, friends, colleagues, clients and business associates. I know who they are and will always be there for them as they were for me."
Mr Gwee, who worked with Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai for more than a decade, was Managing Director and Head of Private Banking for China before he left in 2011 to set up an investment firm which has been reorganised to become ACPG, which provides consultancy to family offices on investments and philanthropy.
Seven years later, in January 2018, following the conviction of Teng Wen-Chung, former Chairman of Taiwanese insurance company Singfor Life Insurance Ltd, for embezzlement, the ICAC charged Mr Gwee for being an agent in accepting an advantage. Mr Gwee was alleged to have accepted HK$150,000 in August 2011 in relation to the handling of Teng's accounts and those of his companies' accounts at SCB.
During last month's court hearing, Mr Gwee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Peter Duncan submitted that his client had no case to answer. He said the ICAC had failed to produce evidence to show that the HK$150,000 was paid to Mr Gwee in relation to the handling of Teng's and Singfor's accounts with the bank, including securing approval for an increase to US$100 million in credit to them.
Mr Duncan said the prosecution was unable to provide a focused and consistent explanation for why the money was paid. While Mr Gwee did not deny receiving the money, he maintained it was a payment for rare wines that he had bought on Teng's behalf.
Mr Duncan also noted that "bribes are invariably paid in a clandestine manner. This was not the case here -- a transfer between banks which was easily traceable. It does not make sense that a seasoned banker such as Mr Gwee would have permitted such a traceable and corrupt payment."
The ICAC, Mr Duncan argued, built its case on certain perceived irregularities surrounding the opening of Teng's and related company accounts, and credit advanced to them.
However, Magistrate Lam agreed that Mr Gwee played no part in the opening of the accounts, which was assigned to the relationship management team. Moreover, the credit facilities to Teng and his companies were approved by the bank's relevant committees and there was no evidence to show that Mr Gwee knew about the ownership of the collateral for the loan, or that he was concealing any information from the bank.
The Magistrate also noted that the alleged HK$150,000 bribe was transferred nine months after the approval of the credit facility to Teng and his companies. The bank transfer, he added, also militated against the allegation of a bribe.