When it comes to the business of gaming, Macau, quite literally, is in a league of its own. In a fifth of the time it took Las Vegas – the erstwhile undisputed casino world champion – the tiny territory on the southern tip of the most populous nation on the planet has revolutionised the world of gambling and left even the most cynical of money men and women bereft of superlatives to describe the amounts of money it generates.
But as the up-down hoopla of casino stock prices generates daily headlines around the world, the trial of the city’s former top prosecutor Ho Chio-meng – a man once tipped to become the political figurehead of China’s only Special Administrative Region besides Hong Kong – has been largely ignored aside from scant coverage in the local Macau media.
The former prosecutor general was arrested on February 27 last year. He is accused of more than 1,500 counts of corruption, fraud, money laundering, nepotism and other crimes. The Ho trial is due to re-start after the Lunar New Year recess. This Week in Asia offers a summary of the story so far.
The driver and the flight attendants:
Former prosecutor Ho’s driver Mak Hak Neng said he transported large amounts of money to the neighbouring mainland city of Zhuhai. The money was deposited in a bank account under Ho’s names.
Between 2005 and 2006 Mak said he crossed the border every month with bags of money containing amounts from HK$100,000 to HK$300,000. It is not clear how he managed to carry such sums over the mainland border without alerting the eye of customs authorities.
Prosecutors allege Ho had “encounters” with women in hotels both in Macau and Zhuhai at the expense of the Prosecutor’s Office which he headed. Mak, 54, had written down the contacts of several women given to him by Ho. Some names were written in red ink, according to the witness, and they were flight attendants.
Mak said he used to drive the women to the hotels, check them in under his name, take the room keys and pass them to Ho. The court heard that a day before the driver gave a statement to Macau’s anti-corruption agency, Ho told his driver: “Don’t talk much.”
The secret room:
Deputy Chief of the Office of the Prosecutor, Wu Kit I, has told the court of a mysterious “secret room” officially designated as a “teachers’ resting area” on the same floor as the prosecutor’s office.
Curiosity over the amount of money being spent on a microfilming service, led her to a room with an unmarked door. What she found inside left her “surprised”. She also told the court that work in the room had been labelled “confidential”. “It was a very strange thing, a private and secret place,” Wu said, according to Portuguese media reports. Strange indeed, and about to become more so. In April 2015, a contractor discovered a fake wall, which gave access to a suite fitted out with an HD television, a ping pong table, a pool table, massage equipment, sauna, mattresses and furniture made out of valuable wood. When Wu used the words “corruption or vice”, Ho interrupted her testimony. “You don’t need to use those terms,” he said, furiously. There were also expensive items found at the location, which had been confiscated by Customs between 2013 and 2014.
The Coloane villa:
A villa in Cheoc Van, Coloane, was rented for 46,000 patacas a month between 2006 and 2014 by the prosecutions office. It was supposedly used to receive guests. But prosecutors allege it was for Ho’s own personal use. In total, 5.1 million patacas of public money was spent on rent.
Ho admitted in court that after he ceased his role he continued using the house without paying for about a year and a half (from 2015 to early 2016). A vast number of personal objects and decoration were found there.
“I think the owner knew who I was, and for respect and not to let me lose face, he let me use his house,” Ho told the court. Ho said he used the house due to security reasons and to receive officials from mainland China who did not want be filmed on CCTV cameras.
The trips to Europe:
Ho made a trip to Denmark with relatives using public money, the court heard. But he claimed, by way of explanation, that he had mentioned the trip to then chief executive Edmund Ho. A Copenhagen trip in the summer of 2005 was ostensibly for an international meeting of public prosecutors. He then also took four relatives, including his wife, on private trips to Holland, Germany and North European countries. He allegedly spent 590,000 patacas in trip expenses.
The promotions and expenses:
Witnesses have told the court they raised doubts about money spent on trips and about promotions within the prosecutions office to their superiors.
One said that over 15 years, the prosecutor had never launched a public tender, although by law works worth more than 750,000 patacas should go to public tender. The court also heard Ho had created a special group to handle issues related to goods and services, which often cited “security” and “confidentiality” as reasons not to disclose information.