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Jail for former HK chief secretary, Sun Hung Kai's Thomas Kwok

From left: Rafael Hui, Hong Kong's former chief secretary; Thomas Chan, former executive board member of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP); and Thomas Kwok, former co-chairman of SHKP, arrive at the High Court in a prison van in Hong Kong on Monday.

Hong Kong

HONG KONG property tycoon Thomas Kwok and the city's former deputy leader were jailed for corruption on Tuesday after a trial that shocked the city and deepened anger at cosy ties between officialdom and big business.

Former chief secretary Rafael Hui, 66, was jailed for seven and a half years on five graft charges, including misconduct in a public office - making him the highest-ranking official in Hong Kong's history to be found guilty of taking bribes.

Kwok, 63 - who was joint chairman of Hong Kong's biggest property company, Sun Hung Kai - was sentenced to five years after he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office over a series of payments totalling US$1.1 million to Hui.

The seven-month trial centred around a total of HK$34 million (S$4 million) in handouts, which the prosecution said were made to Hui by Thomas Kwok 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.

Hong Kong is seen as relatively graft-free - it was ranked the joint 15th cleanest country or territory in 2013 by watchdog Transparency International.

"To know that the former Number 2 in government had received bribes must be a deep disappointment to many people in Hong Kong," said Judge Andrew Macrae.

"It is vitally important in these times that the Hong Kong government and business community remain - and are seen to remain - corruption-free, particularly when the mainland (China) is taking obvious and positive steps to eradicate the cancer of corruption in their own jurisdiction." He said Hui had been "blinded by the desire to sustain the high life".

Prosecutors said Hui enjoyed an extravagant standard of living that far outstripped his official salary. He was also found guilty on charges relating to the use of luxury apartments rent-free and accepting unsecured loans.

Hui, who is married, admitted spending at least HK$7 million on a mistress in Shanghai, for whom he bought properties and made investments, according to local media reports. He also bought her bags, watches and other presents.

Hui was ordered to pay a fine of HK$11.182 million - the sum of one of the payments he was found guilty of receiving. He was given nine months less than the maximum sentence considered by the judge because of his good character and "lifetime" contribution to society.

"It's really too lenient for Rafael - he is the most senior (official) to be indicted and then convicted of bribery in the history of Hong Kong," said Geo Securities CEO Francis Lun, although he conceded that the sentence showed "nobody is above the law".

In sentencing Kwok, Judge Macrae said he had no doubt that he was "at heart a good man".

He said he had considered a maximum sentence of six years, but handed down one year less to account for Kwok's good character.

Kwok was fined HK$500,000 and disqualified from any company directorship for five years after resigning from Sun Hung Kai on Friday. One of his lawyers, Lawrence Lok, told reporters that Kwok plans to appeal.

Kwok waved to his family who hugged each other after hearing his fate, telling them to "be good".

Hong Kong's widening wealth gap and social inequality helped fuel mass pro-democracy protests that brought parts of the city to a standstill for months until the remaining rally sites were cleared last week.

With soaring property and rental prices and stagnant wages, there is rising anger at a lack of opportunity for ordinary residents, particularly among young Hong Kongers.

"Members of the public have had a perception of business-government collusion for some time," said political analyst Sonny Lo, of the Hong Kong Institute of Education. "This case proves that such public perception has some validity."

Ahead of the sentencing hearing, Judge Macrae described the case as "difficult". "One is dealing with otherwise decent men who are not young, but who have committed serious offences," he said.

The payments to Hui were said to have been made by a series of complicated transactions involving middlemen. Two of them - Sun Hung Kai former director Thomas Chan, and Francis Kwan, the former non-executive director of investment firm New Environmental Energy Holdings - were also found guilty on two charges. Chan was sentenced to six years while Kwan was given five years. Both men are also in their 60s. AFP