I'm no criminal, insists Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung
The man who is on trial for money laundering, says his vast fortune stems from gambling and shares
Sunday 20 October 2013
An astonishing picture of the money-making world of a British football club chief was revealed in a Hong Kong court last week.
Carson Yeung, Birmingham City's owner, finally took the stand in his long-running money-laundering trial to explain how a humble hairdresser could amass a multi-million pound fortune.
Faced with five charges relating to £58 million between January 2001 and December 2007, the 53-year-old claimed in the Hong Kong District Court that the money was earned largely through gambling on volatile "red-chip" penny stocks, by playing cards in casinos and not "by criminal means".
He had a substantial investment portfolio including a chain of upmarket hair salons, property in Thailand and Malaysia and hotels in China, the court heard.
The prosecution alleges that £58m deposited in Yeung's five bank accounts from 2001 to 2007 was illegally obtained.
The combined declared income of Yeung and his father in the same period was just £172,300. The charges are unrelated to Birmingham City, which Yeung bought in 2009 for £81.5m.
Yeung, a former hairdresser to stars such as movie legend Jackie Chan, claimed that during the early 2000s he was a "frequent" player at VIP casino rooms in Macau, 40 miles from Hong Kong, earning, he claimed, cash profits of £2.4m.
He added that £5m in cheques paid into his bank accounts by Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, one of six companies that run casinos in the former Portuguese colony, were also "all winnings". When asked how successful he was at playing baccarat by his barrister Graham Harris, he replied: "[You] can say that I won."
He claimed he made £17m in just one year (2001) from share dealing in the volatile but potentially lucrative "red-chip" market where there was more opportunity to make "quick money" than in the established blue-chip companies.
Yeung said that 40 per cent of his deals were "off market" where the transaction prices were set privately by the buying and selling parties but conceded that he could not produce documentary evidence to prove all his claims.
The businessman admitted also that it had been hard to get people who had been involved to testify in his defence. Such people included two former employees who he said had helped him handle several cash withdrawals from his accounts. "Some of them refused to answer my calls," he said. One prominent figure who did testify in Yeung's defence was a businessman and former member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (the national parliament), Chim Pui-chung, who earlier in the trial explained how Yeung bought 50m shares in a paper company from his son for a quarter of the market value. The deal had been "off market" and resulted in Yeung making around £4.5m.
Chim, however, has a colourful past of his own. He had been a Hong Kong lawmaker from the early 1990s through the handover from Britain to China in 1997 until 1998 when he was impeached and jailed. His crime? Conspiring to forge share certificates.
He was released from prison in 1999 and re-elected to the Legislative Council in 2004 finally standing down last year at the age of 66.
That last week's proceedings happened at all – in a case that has run with numerous twists since Yeung's arrest in 2011 – was a surprise to many, not least the prosecution who had been preparing to present their closing submissions on 15 October.
But District Court Judge Douglas Yau Tak-hong instead granted an "unusual" request from Yeung to reopen his defence case which had closed in July "in the interests of justice". Yeung's change of heart coincided with his appointment of a new team of defence lawyers.
It all leaves Birmingham City fans frustrated and wondering what will happen next as they travel to Leeds today for their Championship encounter. The club have just 10 points from 11 matches this season.
Gianni Paladini, the former Queens Park Rangers chairman, has for 15 months been leading a consortium trying to buy out Yeung, whose company Birmingham International Holdings Limited own 96 per cent of the club. So far his advances, which amount to some £20m, have been rebuffed.
Paladini told a Birmingham radio station that he had made a sale agreement a fortnight ago with acting chairman Peter Pannu, but had heard nothing since.
Birmingham countered on Friday with a statement saying: "As has already been highlighted by acting chairman, Peter Pannu, the club's president, Carson Yeung, is not interested in a full disposal of the football club." The trial of Carson Yeung Ka-sing, to give him his full name, continues tomorrow.
Leeds United v Birmingham City is today, 1.15pm kick-off
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