By Alex Frew McMillan
HONG KONG Oct 12 The billionaire Kwok brothers' corruption trial was adjourned on Friday until January to allow the prosecution more time to gather evidence in Hong Kong's highest-profile graft case in decades.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested the tycoons in 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.
Thomas and Raymond Kwok run Sun Hung Kai Properties , the world's second-largest property developer by stock-market value. The Kwok family is Hong Kong's second wealthiest after that of Li Ka-shing.
Rafael Hui, the No.2 official in government from 2005 to 2007, was also arrested in connection with the case, as were Thomas Chan, an executive in charge of land acquisition at Sun Hung Kai, and Francis Kwan, a former banker.
They are charged with a total of eight offences including conspiracy to offer advantages to a public servant between June 2000 and January 2009. The ICAC said the offences involved payments and unsecured loans totalling over HK$35 million ($4.9 million).
The five spoke briefly in court on Friday to say they understood that the case was being adjourned until January 25, to be heard at the Court of First Instance.
No pleas were taken and bail was extended.
The stakes are high for the Kwoks and the government, with Sun Hung Kai's share price having fallen sharply since the scandal broke, while Hong Kong's reputation for integrity has been hit by charges also brought against its former chief secretary.
Prosecutors will likely seek swift progress to bolster the government's anti-graft credentials amid creeping public concerns of overly cozy ties and accommodative policies towards property tycoons.
A long-running saga within the dynastic Kwok family boiled over in 2008 when elder brother Walter was ousted as chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties by his brothers amid claims he had bipolar affective disorder and was not fit to lead the company.
The firm, previously regarded as one of Hong Kong's best-run companies and known for its quality apartments, responded to the arrests by promoting two executives and two of the Kwoks' sons as alternate directors.
Shares of Sun Hung Kai were down 0.6 percent on Friday, lagging a 0.5 percent gain in the benchmark index.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.