We were conned: trial suspects

Thursday, May 15, 2008
Issue 344, Page 1 & 2
Word count: 863
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Another trial relating to money laundering and bribery charges of Ao Man Long’s family and groups of businessmen opened yesterday at the Court of First Instance.

The court case involves Tong Lei Engineering and Construction Ltd which is one of the contractor companies accused of bribing former transport and public works secretary Ao Man Long in return for public construction projects.

Only five of the seven suspects were present at the hearing yesterday as contacts with Tang Kim Man, owner of Tong Lei, and his assistant Lao Chon Hong could not be established, the court heard.

None of the attending suspects pleaded guilty to the court.

Apart from Ao Man Long’s father Ao Veng Kong, brother Ao Man Fu and sister-in-law Ao Chan Wa Choi, Tong Lei’s project manager Lo Chi Cheong and shareholder Leong Chio Tong also gave responses to questions posed by the prosecutor and their lawyers.

The three family members of Ao is each accused of three counts of money laundering, while both Lo and Leong are charged with one count of “bribery for wrongful acts”.

According to the indictment, Ao Man Long suggested a deal with Tang Kim Man. In exchange for “a reward”, a 3,600 square-metre plot of land in Taipa’s Rua Fernao Mendes Pinto would be granted to Chong Ieng Property Investment Ltd without it going through an open tender process, the prosecutor alleged.

Tang and Lo were the co-founders of Chong Ieng Ltd.

The Official Gazette on August 30, 2006 published the approval of the ex-secretary for transport and public works that the land piece in Rua Fernao Mendes Pinto be leased to Chong Ieng Ltd.

Permission was included for the building of a four-storey shopping centre with an underground carpark in exchange for the property investment company’s Travessa do Buzio occupying just 50 square metres in the Macau peninsula.

Lo, who allegedly signed an agreement stating Ecoline Property Ltd (one of the shell companies controlled by Ao) would be given one of the shopping centre’s retail shops after the construction was completed, admitted to the court that the signature belonged to him but denied having any intention of bribery as he thought it was “an ordinary company document”.

He added that he was told by Tang to sign the paper and had no knowledge that Ecoline was a shell company controlled by Ao Man Long.

Leong Chio Tong, who used to hold a 15 percent stake in Tong Lei Ltd, also allegedly signed an agreement promising to give Ecoline Ltd one of the six villas that were going to be built in the Hac Sa Village of Coloane.

The application of the construction project was filed by Tong Lei Ltd to the then Portuguese administration government in 1993 but had long been on hold without being given the official approval.

It wasn’t until 2003 the project was approved by the ex-secretary Ao Man Long in return for one private mansion.

However, the court heard yesterday Leong did not doubt Tang Kim Man’s intention in asking for his signature as “Tang is the boss so he could give the villas to whoever he wanted”.

Although he was a shareholder, Leong said he was just “an employee” and “did not have the right to interrupt Tang’s decisions” because he only owned the shares “nominally” and never participated in any “real works”.

He added that he never received a salary from Tong Lei Ltd but an occasional dividend of between 50,000 patacas and 100,000 patacas.

Tang Kim Man, the brother-in-law of Leong, used to outsource dredging projects to the construction company established by Leong and his wife in 2000, the court was told.

However, Leong later confessed at the trial that he had a “very bad relationship” with his brother-in-law and therefore quit Tong Lei Ltd in 2005.

Meanwhile, Ao Veng Kong, Ao Man Fu and Ao Chan Wa Choi all gave the same explanation for the alleged money laundering charges. The three had also previously answered similar allegations at a trial which concluded last month. The Ao family members are still awaiting the verdict of the earlier trial.

During the trial the Ao family denied the money laundering accusations, citing they had no knowledge of the kinds of documents they were given to sign because they had “a strong faith in Ao Man Long and never questioned him”, the court heard.

The documents included forms to open bank accounts in Hong Kong and the UK as well as the establishment of another shell company, Citygrand Management Ltd, which was legally owned by Ao Chan Wa Choi but controlled by Ao Man Long.

Two cheques totalling 10.5 million patacas payable to Citygrand were seized which the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) believed were bribes from construction companies.

However, Ao Chan Wa Choi told the court she “wouldn’t have worked as a clerk earning no more than 10,000 patacas a month” if she knew she had received such a big amount of money.

Witnesses will be called today and Ao Man Long, who is serving his 27-year prison sentence, will be called first at 9.45am at the Court of First Instance located on the sixth floor of the Macau Square.

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