By Benjamin Cost
Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has arrested Thomas and Raymond Kwok, the heads of Hong Kong’s largest real-estate firm, Sun Hung Kai Properties, for suspected bribery. However, as of yet, official charges have not yet been placed on the two billionaire brothers. Forbes reports:
SHKP’s board, which apparently learned of the investigation at least 10 days ago, had set up a special committee on March 19 to handle all matters related to the investigation. Today, the board, whose members include Hong Kong billionaires Lee Shau Kee and William Fung, voted to discharge the brothers from their duties at least for now. Trading in its shares was suspended at the company’s request.
The brothers have been in the news in recent years due to their feud with older brother Walter Kwok, who ran the firm for 18 years before being apparently forced to step down in 2008. Thomas and Raymond, who are said to be quite religious and operate a tourist attraction that is a replica of Noah’s Ark, restructured the family trusts to eliminate Walter as a beneficiary, shifting his shares to their mother who they replaced as chairmen this fall. (The family is the second richest in Hong Kong, after Li Ka-shing). Walter is still a board member and his role in this latest saga is one to watch.
Details surrounding the case remain closely guarded and it appears as if charges may not come soon, especially due to the less than proactive stance of the ICAC. Steve Vickers, CEO of a risk and security consulting company, remains unsure as to whether the Kwoks will even face prosecution at all: “These cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute. It will be interesting to see whether charges emerge or not.”
The Kwok case marks the latest in a spate of billionaire arrests and scandals which on the China front, included the 2010 arrest of Gome Electrical Appliances founder, Wong Kwong Yu, who was charged with bribery, insider trading, and stock manipulation.