Defendants Plead Not Guilty in Historic Hong Kong Corruption Trial

Billionaire property developer Thomas Kwok arriving at the Hong Kong High Court on day one of his trial where he is facing allegations of corruption in Hong Kong, China, 08 May 2014 (DPA).

Hong Kong (DPA) — Hong Kong's former number two government official and the billionaire brothers who run one of the world's largest real estate firms pleaded not guilty at the opening of the city's biggest-ever corruption case Thursday.

Former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, 66, received bribes in the form of payments and loans totalling more than 35 million Hong Kong dollars (4.5 million US dollars) from the co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties, prosecutors said.

The trial is scheduled to last for 70 days before High Court Judge Andrew Macrae, and comes two years after Hui and brothers Thomas and Raymond Kwok were arrested by the city's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in March 2012.

Hui is the highest-ranking official ever to stand trial in the city, and the case has increased scrutiny of the relationships between Hong Kong's tycoons and government officials.

The graft allegations against him cover his tenure as chief secretary from 2005 to 2007 under the administration of chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, and subsequently as a non-official member of the Executive Council until 2009.

Looking relaxed in the courtroom and dressed in a dark blue suit, Hui denied all eight charges including furnishing false information, misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

The total of five defendants, who have been out on bail, pleaded not guilty to all charges against them.

The Kwoks faces a charge of conspiracy to offer an advantage to a public servant, and Raymond Kwok and Hui both face a charge of furnishing false information contained in an invoice.

Two other bribery charges concern Sun Hung Kai director Thomas Chan and Francis Kwan, a former executive at bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd.

Hui and the Kwoks were seated together in the courtroom, with the two other defendants sitting behind them. More than 100 local and international reporters who could not get a seat in the courtroom watched the trial outside on three large screens.

A total of 82 prosecution witnesses, including business tycoons and former government ministers who served alongside Hui, are expected to testify during the trial.

Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, has a separate government and legal system from the mainland. It reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, following more than 150 years of British colonial rule.

The ICAC was set up by the British colonial government in the 1970s to tackle corruption.