Carson Yeung, owner of British football club Birmingham City, was convicted of five charges of laundering HK$721.3 million ($93 million) by a Hong Kong judge.
Prosecutors said the former hairdresser, 54, was part of a money-laundering machine linked to organized crime in Macau, the only Chinese territory where casinos are legal. Yeung, who resigned as chairman and director of Hong Kong-listed Birmingham International Holdings Ltd. (2309) last month, said his wealth came from trading stocks and real estate, and gambling.
“He was just making it up as he went along,” District Court Judge Douglas Yau said today of Yeung’s testimony. Yeung’s bail was revoked and he was remanded to jail to await sentencing on Friday.
Yeung’s lawyers had argued that a fair trial over the funds he banked from 2001 to 2007 wasn’t possible as brokerage documents weren’t kept. The prosecution failed to prove his wealth didn’t come from investments and gambling winnings, they said. His lawyers declined to comment today when asked if they would appeal.
The guilty verdict “in no way affects the normal business operations” of Birmingham International and its subsidiaries, the company said in a stock exchange filing.
The law only requires the court to find that Yeung had reasonable grounds to believe that the funds passing through his accounts were the proceeds of crime, John Reading, a lawyer for the prosecution, said in his closing argument.
Yeung, dressed in a dark suit and tie, showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. He faces as long as seven years in jail.
Hong Kong has been strengthening controls on money laundering and last year jailed a school dropout for 10-and-a-half years for laundering HK$13 billion over eight months. Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group, estimated $400 billion was smuggled into China from Hong Kong through faked trade invoices since 2006, while $1 trillion flowed out in the decade between 2002 and 2011.
Yeung was chairman of Grandtop International Holdings Ltd., which in 2007 bought a 29.9 percent stake in Birmingham City for 15 million pounds ($25 million). He bought the rest of the club in 2009 for 81.5 million pounds, and Grandtop changed its name to Birmingham International Holdings.
The team’s fortunes peaked when it won the League Cup in 2011. Yeung was arrested in his home a few months later and the team was relegated from the Premier League.
The court heard testimony of Yeung’s lavish lifestyle including buying property in London and a house in Hong Kong’s exclusive Peak neighborhood. He testified he bought an HK$6 million Maybach car and a HK$49 million 88-foot yacht.
Prosecutors focused on the flow of money in and out of Yeung’s accounts including cash checks of HK$72 million from Macau casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau SA among 436 cash deposits.
Yeung said they were the winnings from his frequent gambling trips to play high-stakes baccarat.
After a two-and-half year suspension, shares in Birmingham International resumed trading Feb. 7 after Yeung resigned as chairman. The company said it agreed to sell a 12 percent stake in the club for HK$45 million to a Beijing-based advertising firm to help it enter mainland China.
Then on Feb. 20 the company announced it was buying a stake in an Indonesian oil service company called PetroPro PT.
The case is Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Yeung Ka-sing Carson, DCCC860/2011 in the Hong Kong District Court.
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