* Yeung to be sentenced on Friday, faces up to seven years in jail
* Football club owner had denied five charges of laundering $93 mln
* Judge says defendant was “not a witness of truth”
By Grace Li
HONG KONG, March 3 (Reuters) - Birmingham City Football Club boss Carson Yeung was found guilty by a Hong Kong court on Monday of five counts of money-laundering in a high-profile trial that cast a spotlight on how the barber-turned-businessman made his fortune.
Yeung, who had denied the charges of laundering $93 million between January 2001 and December 2007, will be sentenced on Friday. He faces up to seven years in jail.
A former hair stylist to Hong Kong’s rich and famous, Yeung had told the court he amassed his wealth through hairdressing, share trading, property purchases, gambling in the world’s casino hub of Macau and other investments.
Prosecutors had pointed to what they said were suspicious cheque payments made to Yeung by employees of Macau companies, including a junket operator, which earns commissions from casinos to attract cash-rich gamblers.
Delivering his verdict to a packed courtroom after a trial that lasted more than 50 days, District Court Judge Douglas Yau said Yeung had lied about how he made his money and exaggerated the amount of cash generated by his hair salon business and through gambling.
“I find the defendant not a witness of truth. I find that he is someone who is prepared to, and did try to, lie whenever he saw the need to do so,” the judge said.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Yeung appeared calm but looked tired during the court proceedings and did not react when the verdict was read out.
English second tier club Birmingham City said the verdict would not affect its day-to-day operations, adding that its parent company would continue to seek new investment.
“STRANGE BUSINESS DEALINGS”
The trial has revealed the flamboyant businessman’s close ties to Macau’s casino world, both as an investor and gambler, and how that facilitated business investments that helped him amass his wealth.
The judge said he found it “extremely strange” that some of Yeung’s business dealings were conducted without a written agreement, even when the amount of money involved was huge.
“Unless, of course, those engaged in such a transaction would rather there not be records,” Judge Yau said.
Yeung initially bought 29.91 percent of the shares in Birmingham City Football Club in 2007 and then acquired the rest of the shares for approximately 81.5 million pounds ($130 million) in 2009, through his company, Birmingham International Holdings Ltd.
He stepped down as chairman and executive director of the listed company last month while he awaited a verdict. A week later, the indebted parent said it was selling a 12 percent share in its UK subsidiary for HK$45 million ($5.8 million) to a little-known Chinese advertising firm.
Acting club chairman Peter Pannu sought to play down the impact on Birmingham, relegated from the Premier League in 2011.
“I’d like to reassure all supporters and staff that today’s verdict will have no impact on the day-to-day operations at the football club,” Pannu said in a statement.
“Birmingham International Holdings Limited, the holding company, shall continue to support the football club under the leadership of the group’s new chairman, Mr Cheung Shing, and will work to raise further investment to support Birmingham City F.C. going forward.”
As a free financial centre, Hong Kong has become a popular place for Chinese to set up companies and conduct business, in some cases to obscure their assets through money-laundering.
A new anti-money laundering (AML) ordinance came into effect in April 2012, bringing stricter requirements for bank monitoring of customers and the reporting of suspicious transactions to authorities.
Last April the city’s banking regulator doubled the size of its anti-money laundering team to strengthen supervision amid intensifying scrutiny of monitoring and compliance systems at global financial institutions.