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HK tycoon faces Macau corruption trial

HONG KONG -- A Hong Kong tycoon is facing prosecution for alleged bribery and money laundering in connection with a government land sale on the Cotai casino strip in Macau, his company said.

In the latest corruption scandal to hit Hong Kong's business elite, Chinese Estates Holdings said its chief executive Joseph Lau denied attempting to bribe a jailed former senior official over the land tender.

Lau, 61, is ranked fifth on Forbes magazine's list of richest people in Hong Kong, Asia's banking and financial center, with a fortune estimated at US$6.5 billion.

“Mr. Lau strenuously denies the allegation leveled against him,” it said in a statement filed to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange late Thursday.

The case will not have any “material adverse effect” on the company and Lau will continue serving in his current position, the property developer said.

Company officials refused to comment further on the case.

Macau's Court of Criminal Instruction has formally accepted the accusation from a public prosecutor that Lau bribed Ao Man-long, Macau's former secretary for transport and public works.

Lau denied the allegations at Ao's trial in April. The former official is already serving a jail sentence for accepting bribes to approve projects.

He has been accused of helping companies run by Lau and businessman Steven Lo to win a government tender for five plots near Macau International Airport.

Chinese Estates is building an up-market residential property on the site called La Scala, and says it has invested more than HK$20 billion (US$2.5 billion) in construction and design.

A Macau court has denied Lau's bid to have the accusations dropped based on a lack of evidence, and the case will now be remitted to the Macau Court of First Instance for trial.

“It is quite certain the court case would hurt the reputation of Chinese Estates, putting pressure on the share price,” Core-Pacific Yamaichi International analyst Castor Pang told Dow Jones Newswires.

“However, it's still unknown if the court will focus on Lau as an individual or the chairman of Chinese Estates. The impact on Chinese Estates' operations should be limited.”

Shares in Chinese Estates Holdings fell 7.43 percent to HK$9.09 on Friday, following a suspension the previous day pending the company's announcement on the Macau case.

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