Disgraced tycoon returns to Sun Hung Kai property empire after jail term in Hong Kong bribery case involving city’s former No. 2 official

Sandy Li

Disgraced Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong is returning to his family business empire, nine months after completing a jail term for a 2014 bribery scandal involving one of the city’s highest public officials.

Kwok, 67, has been appointed as a senior director at Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency, a unit of Hong Kong’s largest developer Sun Hung Kai Properties, according to an internal announcement to group employees on Thursday.

“He will focus on long-term strategy of land planning and project development, and will not be involved in daily operations of the group,” according to the announcement. The board of directors supported his appointment, it added.

The tycoon was convicted in December 2014 for bribing former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan in exchange for favours, and banned from company directorship for five years. He was released from the Stanley Prison in March last year, after serving about two-thirds of his sentence for good behaviour, and was greeted by his son and daughter and younger brother.

Hong Kong property mogul Thomas Kwok released after more than three years in prison for bribery

The scandal centred on a payment of HK$8.5 million (US$1.1 million) Kwok made to Hui through two middlemen, before the latter rose to the No. 2 job in 2005. Hui was later put in charge of property projects, including those in which Sun Hung Kai had substantial interests.

The 71-year old Hui himself was released from the same prison last month after serving most of his 7-½-year term. The court had found him guilty of pocketing nearly HK$20 million from the developer in the case.

Former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan (centre) is released from Stanley Prison in December 2019 after serving five years for bribery, misconduct. Photo: Nora Tam

Former Hong Kong chief secretary Rafael Hui released from prison after serving jail term for bribery

“It is normal for him to have a role in the group’s business as the five-year restriction has been lifted now,” said Raymond Cheng, head of Hong Kong and China research at CGS-CIMB Securities. “But he is just not working directly under the listed flagship.”

Kwok returned to the group on the day Sun Hung Kai’s shares fell 0.7 per cent on the first day of trading in the new year in Hong Kong. The shares rose 6.9 per cent in 2019, giving it a market capitalisation of about HK$343 billion.

Kwok’s personal fortune of US$11.8 billion puts him as the city’s eighth richest person, which is derived from his 17 per cent share of the listed group and other cash, according to Bloomberg data.

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He is the second son of the late Kwok Tak-seng, a wholesale grocer from Guangdong who emigrated and founded the property empire in 1963. The group is now helmed by younger brother Raymond Kwok. The eldest, Walter Kwok, passed away in October 2018.

Sun Hung Kai Properties said the board supported Thomas Kwok’s appointment at the subsidiary unit after considering his past service. His knowledge and experience in the industry will benefit the group, it added.

“His extensive knowledge in land planning and steeped experiences in project development including involvement in many large-scale projects during his 40 years of industry experience, together with his international perspectives, would benefit the group’s long-term development in the related business,” the group said.

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