What is being called one of the biggest corruption trials in Hong Kong’s history turned up an unexpected element when the city’s former No. 2 official said he received a secret payment of 11 million Hong Kong dollars, or $1.42 million, from Beijing, the local news media reported.
Rafael Hui Si-yan, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary, testified Tuesday that he received the money in late 2007 from a friend who said it was from “someone from Beijing” but refused to identify the donor, according to The South China Morning Post. The disclosure raises the issue of relations between Hong Kong and Chinese leaders in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but has retained some autonomy, at a time when democracy advocates in Hong Kong are increasingly critical of Beijing’s political influence.
Mr. Hui, 66, is accused of taking bribes from two Hong Kong brothers, the billionaires Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen. The joint chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties are said to have wanted Mr. Hui to be their “eyes and ears” in the government. The bribes Mr. Hui are alleged to have received amounted to more than $3.87 million.
Mr. Hui faces eight charges in the trial, which has been underway since early May, including conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and accepting advantages as a public servant. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Mr. Hui told the court on Tuesday that he didn’t declare the donation from Beijing to the government because it was “unrelated” to Hong Kong affairs, according to The South China Morning Post.
Mr. Hui said that, in early 2007, Liao Hui, a senior Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong affairs, encouraged him to extend his tenure, which was set to end in four months, as the chief secretary to the chief executive at the time, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Mr. Hui said he told Mr. Liao, who was director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office in China’s cabinet, that he was reluctant to stay on for financial reasons. He said that Mr. Liao responded that he would “think about how to help,” The South China Morning Post reported.
Mr. Hui did not stay on, but he did remain a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, the territory’s chief policy-making body, until 2009. He told the court that in March 2008, after he received the payment, he met Mr. Liao at a function in Beijing where the Chinese official, pulling him aside, told him: “I’ve helped you already. Don’t overspend any more.”
Mr. Hui had said earlier than he maintained a lavish lifestyle, regularly treating friends to dinners costing up to $2,500 while he was chief secretary, and once spending $27,000 at a French restaurant. In one instance, The Hong Kong Economic Journal reported last week, he gave at least $900,000 to a young woman from Shanghai with whom he had developed an intimate relationship.