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Bribery conviction forces emergency succession at Hong Kong real estate firm

By Tess De La Mare

A Hong Kong property tycoon has been forced to prematurely hand over the reins of the family businesses after being convicted of bribing a senior official and money laundering by a Macau court.

Billionaire chairman of Chinese Estates Holdings Joseph Lau, 62, was found guilty of bribing a former Macau public works chief to the tune of HK$20 million (€1.9 million) to secure the sale of a parcel of land on the peninsula, which has a booming gambling and tourist industry.

Lau will be replaced by his 33-year-old Ming-wai Lau, who has also been named acting chief executive.

Lau founded his first company, an electronics firm called Evergo Holdings, in 1978, and went on to acquire his first real estate company in 1986 – he restructured his companies into Chinese Estates Holdings in 1993, in which he now holds a 75% stake.

Ming-wai had long been tipped to succeed his father, and was the vice chairman and a non-executive director before his recent promotion, but the court case forced the change to take place earlier than planned.

Ming-wai holds degrees from Kings College London and the London School of Economics, and previously worked at investment bank Goldman Sachs and asset management firm Longview Partners.

According to the South China Morning Post, Lau was not legally obliged to quit his post, but bowed to pressure from investors and public opinion. 

Lau was sentenced to five years and three months in prison, but it is unlikely he will serve any of the time as both Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions of China, and there is no extradition agreement between them.

Chinese Estates Holdings said in a statement that Lau had lodged an appeal against his sentence, which was accepted, meaning his conviction is suspended until the final ruling on the case has taken place. 

The official involved, Ao Man-long, was sentenced to 29 years' imprisonment in 2012, and Lau's business partner, Steven Lo, also received five years and three months in prison.