Billionaire Kwok brothers plead not guilty in HK graft trial

The two billionaire co-chairmen of property goliath Sun Hung Kai Properties <0016.HK> and a former senior government official pleaded not guilty on Friday to involvement in one of Hong Kong's biggest corruption cases.

In a pre-trial hearing, five defendants, including Thomas and Raymond Kwok of Sun Hung Kai Properties <0016.HK>, listened to eight charges against them before pleading not guilty. The others were former Hong Kong No. 2 official Rafael Hui, another Sun Hung Kai executive, Thomas Chan, and businessman Francis Kwan.

The corruption case involves a series of payments and unsecured loans totaling million of dollars, between 2000 and 2009, allegedly paid to Hui through a number of financial entities by the four men, according to authorities.

A bribery charge against the younger Kwok brother, Raymond, was dropped. However, he still faces two other criminal charges, including "conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office" over a HK$4.125 million payment to Hui and "furnishing false information" to try to cover up the payment.

"(Raymond) faces no allegations at all under the prevention of briberies ordinance," Raymond Kwok's lawyer, Gerard McCoy, said in the courtroom.

His brother, Thomas Kwok, faces "conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office" for a HK$5 million payment to Hui, and involvement in a second HK$8.5 million payment to Hui.

Hui faces one extra charge, that of "misconduct in public office", for allegedly failing to declare or concealing a series of payments totaling HK$11.182 million from Chan and Kwan.

Hui was Hong Kong's No.2 official from 2005 to 2007.

No date was given for the trial by the magistrate, but it is expected to begin next year.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested the tycoons last March in one of the agency's biggest investigations since it was set up in 1974 to root out widespread corruption in the then-British colonial government and police.

Sun Hung Kai Properties is the world's second-largest property developer by market value. The Kwok family is Hong Kong's second wealthiest after that of tycoon Li Ka-shing.

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Grace Li; Editing by Ken Wills)