By KELVIN CHAN
Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. Joint Vice Chairmen and Managing Director Raymond Kwok arrives at the Eastern Court in Hong Kong Friday, March 8, 2013. Billionaire property brothers Thomas and Raymond Kwok are at the center of a Hong Kong graft probe have pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. The Kwoks were arrested by anti-corruption police and charged last year along with a former senior government official and two others. The brothers are joint chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties, one of the city’s biggest developers. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s billionaire Kwok brothers pleaded not guilty to graft charges on Friday, setting the stage for the city’s biggest corruption trial in years.
The pleas entered by Thomas and Raymond Kwok all but ensure their case will head to trial in the city’s High Court.
The brothers are joint chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., one of Hong Kong’s biggest developers. Forbes estimates they are the third richest people in Hong Kong, with a combined net worth of $20 billion.
Anti-corruption police arrested and charged the Kwoks last year, along with three others. Prosecutors had alleged that the prominent developers gave bribes in exchange for lucrative information on pending land sales. But they slightly revised the charges, dropping the bribery charge against Raymond Kwok. The brothers still face charges of misconduct and providing false information.
The three other defendants also pleaded not guilty. They include Rafael Hui, formerly the second highest ranking government official; a former senior officer at stock exchange operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing; and an executive director at Sun Hung Kai.
Hui is alleged to have provided land sale information to the Kwoks between 2005 and 2007
The corruption scandal shocked the southern Chinese financial center, where residents have traditionally revered the city’s tycoons. But widening inequality, much of it linked to skyrocketing housing costs in the densely populated city, means that has given way in recent years to public anger over the billionaire class, many of whom made their fortunes in property.
Prosecutor Kevin Zervos said at the brief hearing that 72 witnesses would testify.