Tory Scandal: An Oriental family tale of drugs, corruption and exile

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The Independent Online
The two Ma brothers fled drug-trafficking charges in Hong Kong. Ma Sik-yo died in exile in Taiwan; Ma Sik-chun, who is said to have given the Tories pounds 1m, does not dare return home, even though his son is one of the richest men in the world. Steve Boggan follows the thread of a web tangled by corrupt police, politicians, the media and the colonial authorities.

Ma Sik-chun, 59, the alleged pounds 1m donor to the Conservative Party, fled from Hong Kong in 1978 while on bail facing charges of heroin and opium trafficking on a huge scale.

Today, his son, Ma Ching-kwan (CK Ma), is one of the richest men in the world, a billionaire at the head of a respectable publishing and property empire. Yet he is powerless in the face of the warrant that will greet Ma senior should he risk returning to Hong Kong from his exile in Taiwan.

In 1991, Ma senior's brother, Ma Sik-yu, better known in Hong Kong as "White Powder Ma" died in Taiwan at the end of a lonely exile. He, too, was a fugitive from heroin-trafficking charges and it is his fate that CK Ma fears may now await his father.

Ma Sik-yu had escaped the clutches of the police after being tipped off in 1977. Ma Sik-chun was not so lucky. He remained in Hong Kong and was picked up by the police, along with four alleged accomplices. At the time, the police narcotics bureau boasted that they had smashed the largest drug syndicate ever to operate in Hong Kong.

Ma Sik-chun faced charges of opium trafficking and heroin dealing on a breathtaking scale. The principal witness against him was Ng Sik-ho, a notorious triad and drug trafficker, better known as "Limpy Ho". Like the Ma brothers, he became the subject of a lurid film supposedly detailing his activities.

Police corruption was still rife in the Seventies and police involvement in the narcotics trade was extensive. A trial could well have caused embarrassment among the so-called law enforcers. Ma Sik-chun was granted bail and the following month, despite supposedly being under round-the-clock police surveillance, he slipped out of Hong Kong aboard a small boat and made for Taiwan. On arrival he was promptly arrested for illegal entry but freed in less than a year.

Taiwan has no extradition treaty with Hong Kong and is the home of many of the corrupt officers who escaped the big crackdown on police corruption in the Eighties. Mr Ma still lives in Taipei, and cannot leave if he wishes to avoid arrest. He has suffered some serious health problems but maintains business activities and is closely in touch with affairs in Hong Kong. Under Hong Kong law he remains a fugitive from justice. The charges filed almost two decades ago have not been withdrawn.

Meanwhile, the Ma family's publishing empire has grown and the flagship company, the Oriental Press Group, is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Ma Sik-chun's eldest son, Ma Ching-kwan, has been active in cultivating relations with major political leaders. Among those with whom he has been associated are former United States presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan and the former Australian prime minister Paul Keating.

The extraordinary allegations made in yesterday's edition of the Oriental Daily News came after days of lengthy reports in the newspaper alleging harassment and a co-ordinated effort to undermine and damage the Ma family and its newspaper business. These reports make a wide number of allegations against the former colonial authorities, in particular Chris Patten, then governor of Hong Kong, and his senior officials.

The Oriental Press Group started running the articles after it failed to win an appeal in Hong Kong's High Court concerning a dispute with its bitter rival, the Apple Daily. The appeal judge Mr Justice Godfrey was then subject to sustained abuse in the paper and put under 24-hour "surveillance" by a team of Oriental Daily News reporters, to teach him a lesson. This action evoked a storm of protest from journalistic and legal organisations in Hong Kong. These protests were cited as evidence of the conspiracy against the Oriental group. It is the largest newspaper publisher in Hong Kong and has substantial property interests in Britain.

Yesterday, when asked whether it had been wise for the Conservative Party to accept money from the Ma family, Mr Patten said: "That is a question you will have to put to Conservative Central Office."

Asked whether he would have accepted donations from the family when he was party chairman, he replied: "That is a hypothetical question, and good politicians never answer hypothetical questions."