July 18, 2019 / 2:31 AM / 3 months ago

Former JPMorgan senior banker pleads not guilty to Hong Kong bribery charges

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A former JPMorgan (JPM.N) Asia investment banking vice-chair, Catherine Leung, pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery in a Hong Kong court on Thursday.

Leung was charged in May by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption with bribing the then chairman of a potential client, a logistics company, by employing his son at the U.S. investment bank.

While Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog did not name the company or the chairman at the time, the prosecution in the Leung case said on Thursday that she had “offered advantages” to Keng-lam Ang, chairman of Kerry Logistics Network Ltd (0636.HK).

Leung did that in anticipation that Ang would return the favor by influencing Kerry Logistics and its parent Kerry Properties Ltd (0683.HK) to give business to JPMorgan, the prosecution alleged in its summary of facts.

Leung did not comment when approached by Reuters outside the court room. Ang and his son could not be immediately reached for comment via their current employer.

A Kerry Logistics representative said in an email that Ang stepped down from Kerry Logistics Network Limited’s chairmanship in August 2012, and that JPMorgan did not participate in Kerry Logistics’ IPO in December 2013.

A spokeswoman for Kerry Properties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman for JPMorgan declined to comment and instead referred to the bank’s statement made when Leung was charged in May that said: “This is a historical case, which J.P. Morgan reached agreement on and settled in 2016”.

JPMorgan agreed to pay U.S. authorities $264 million in 2016 here resolve allegations it hired the relatives of Chinese officials - dubbed "princelings" - to win banking deals.

The bank did not admit or deny the charges. As part of its settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, a Hong Kong unit of the bank admitted to making quid pro quo hiring agreements with Chinese officials to win investment business.

U.S. authorities at the time said JPMorgan’s Asia unit created an elaborate program, called “Sons and Daughters”, that allowed clients and influential government officials to recommend potential hires.

“BLINK BLINK, NOD NOD”

Leung was vice-chair of Asia investment banking when she left JPMorgan in February 2015. She first joined JPMorgan in 1994, according to her LinkedIn profile, and left to join rival Merrill Lynch in 2001, before rejoining JPMorgan in 2002.

In 2009, Kerry Properties (0683.HK) decided to spin out and list Kerry Logistics (0636.HK) in Hong Kong. Leung liaised with top company executives for the IPO and other services that JPMorgan could offer, the prosecution summary showed.

Having considered the existing and potential business opportunities from Kerry Logistics, Leung allegedly sought to offer the chairman’s son, Ang Ren-yi, a job with JPMorgan under the bank’s “Sons and Daughters” program, the summary said.

Kerry Logistics is “close to mandating banks for their IPO. We are a strong contender. Blink Blink nod nod, can we find a place for his son ...”, Leung allegedly wrote in an internal email to her colleagues on Jan. 10, 2010.

Leung arranged interviews for the son and persuaded her colleagues to hire him, the prosecution summary said, adding that Ang Ren-yi was given a job contract starting from June. 28, 2010 as an analyst with the bank in Hong Kong.

Ang Ren-yi resigned from JPMorgan on Oct 28, 2011.

Management of Kerry Logistics said they did not allow Ang, or any employee, to accept advantages from JPMorgan staff as rewards for showing favor to JPMorgan, the document shows.

Leung’s trial has been set to start on Feb. 25, 2020, and will continue for eight days, Glen Kong, prosecutor, said.

Kong asked the judge to consider merging Leung’s case with that of another ongoing investigation as the two share a similar witness list.

No arrests have been made in the other case but the suspect, currently in mainland China, is likely to return to Hong Kong, Kong said. Details of the case were not available.

Judge WK Kwok did not immediately make a decision about merging the two cases.

Reporting by Alun John and Felix Tam in Hong Kong; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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