Shell company blacklisted due to “suspicious transactions”: HSBC witness

Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Issue 273, Page 4
Word count: 1134
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The business banking manager from Hong Kong told the court during Ao Man Long’s family trial yesterday that the “irregular and huge amount of transactions” in the corporate account controlled by the ex-secretary was terminated and blacklisted by the bank in 2004 after the activities aroused their suspicion.

Lao Fong from the Ocean Centre Branch of HSBC, Hong Kong, was the manager who opened the bank accounts under the offshore shell company, Citygrand Ltd, in 2004 with the registered shareholder and director, Ao Chan Wa Choi, and the presence of Ao Man Long and his wife Chan Meng Ieng.

Ms Lao said that she first opened a corporate account for Citygrand Ltd in May 2004 and during the process it was attended by Ao Man Long and his sister-in-law, Ao Chan Wa Choi, one of the four family members who are being tried at the Court of First Instance for money laundering charges related to the former secretary’s convicted bribery crimes.

The court heard that Ao Chan Wa Choi had been identified by the bank at that time that she was the sole shareholder and director of Citygrand Ltd, a company which was registered in the British Virgin Islands.

At the same time, Ms Lao said Ao Chan Wa Choi signed the authorisation form which allowed Ao Man Long to become the only legitimate person who had the right to manage the corporate account in the Hong Kong bank.

The business banking manager then told the court Ao Man Long and Chan Meng Ieng, brought along another authorisation form signed by Ao Chan Wa Choi and visited the bank again in August, 2004, requesting to cancel the first account as Ao Man Long said he “didn’t receive the bank card”.

The married couple then asked Ms Lao to set up a new Citygrand account with the management rights going to Ao Chan Wa Choi as well as themselves, the court heard.

On the same day, Ms Lao said Ao Man Long’s father, Ao Veng Kong, also opened a private saving account with the assistance of another branch staff member.

The ex-transport and public works secretary and his wife were also given by the account holder the right to manage the saving account, the witness said.

According to the witness, every bank in Hong Kong has been given guidelines from the Monetary Authority to prevent engaging in money laundering activities.

Although the bank’s internal database did not identify Ao Man Long as a top government official from Macau, Ms Lao told the court she had asked both Ao and his wife questions such as the purpose for setting up the account, the source of the funds and the annual turnover.

Ms Lao said the married couple told her the corporate account was to manage real estate and stock market investment, that the funds would come from their family’s assets, and there would be about 100 times the transactions with an annual turnover of 10 to 20 million patacas.

However, a month later in September, the manager told the court HSBC found the activities carried out through the corporate account were suspicious because of the “irregular” and “massive amount” transactions.

Therefore, she said the bank mailed a letter to Ao Man Long acknowledging him the coercive termination of the Citygrand Ltd account, which at that time already accumulated a deposit of more than 10 million patacas.

In addition, HSBC blacklisted Citygrand Ltd and its shareholder and director Ao Chan Wa Choi, and in such measure the bank would not accept any more business either from the company or the person, the court was told.

Ao Man Long, however, was not told the cause contributing to the bank’s decision, but was told it was an “administrative reason”, Ms Lao said.

As the bank would not ban business from the account attorney, Ao Man Long was able to open accounts under the names of his other family members at HSBC in 2006, the court heard.

Ao Chan Wa Choi, the wife of Ao Man Long’s brother, Ao Man Fu, who is also a defendant at the family trial, testified against her accusations last month at the court that she knew nothing about Citygrand Ltd and its bank accounts, stating she did not understand English and “would sign her name without questioning whenever Ao Man Long asked her to, even in circumstances that she was not told the content of the paperwork or what the signing might mean for her”.

Answering the question posed by the assistant Attorney-General, Ms Lao testified that it was “unjustified” if a person claimed they did not know what bank documents they had signed.

It was because, the witness said, both Ao Man Long and Ao Chan Wa Choi were sitting in front of her in the office, and she had explained the conditions and details of account opening to them and the content of the attorney authorisation form to Ao Chan Wa Choi, all in Cantonese.

Ao Chan Wa Choi, who then raised up her hand seeking for a chance to speak, affirmed to the court again that she could not recall anyone ever explained the authorisation content to her, and said that Ao Man Long only told her to wait in a coffee shop after signing some paperwork given by a man.

Another witness from one of Bank of China’s Hong Kong branches, Cheng Tat Yan, also told the court yesterday that Ao Man Long was the only person being authorised to manage the accounts established under Ecoline Property Ltd and Best Choice Asset Company Ltd with shareholders and directors registered as Lee Se Cheung and Pedro Chiang (also known as “Lam Wai”) respectively.

Apart from the two bank witnesses, Ao Man Long continued giving his testimony yesterday facing questions posed by the two assistant Attorney-Generals.

Although admitting to having received large sums of money from businessmen and private contractors Ho Meng Fai, Chan Tong Sang, and former CSR director, Frederico Nolasco da Silva, who is the only “non-Ao” defendant being tried in the family trial, Ao Man Long denied the ten million patacas of cheques received were “under-table transactions” in order to influence the open tenders results in favour of the companies.

The money was all deposited into different bank accounts controlled by the former secretary. However, the 51-year-old told the court he could not remember for what reasons the cheques were given to him, and also failed to explain what the figures written in his “Friendship Books” meant and why those numbers matched the values of deposits.

Ao Man Long’s testimony was deemed by the assistant Attorney-General Chan Zi King as “ridiculous, unjustified and illogical” during the hearing.

Ao, who is serving his 27-year jail sentence, will present to testify again next Monday to answer questions raised by defense lawyers.

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