Written by Staff Writer by By Anna Rowlands, CNN Hong Kong
It was all too much for the stand-offish tycoon Jimmy Lai to bear.
The Hong Kong businessman accused of colluding with the city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, to hand over his property empire in order to facilitate an unprecedented takeover by Li’s family had already lost $600 million in the past two months — mainly due to raids on his properties by the Hong Kong Internal Security Bureau.
Lai hoped for a better ending — a generous settlement that would keep the 60-year-old businessman out of jail. But on Friday, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal dashed his hopes.
Lai was sentenced to a minimum of six months in prison for criminal breach of trust.
According to the court, the billionaire used $87 million of cash proceeds from his disposal of his interests in Hutchison Whampoa, to buy a super yacht named Shazam and an elaborate palatial mansion in the island of Tsim Sha Tsui, close to where Li lives.
“Lai acted extremely dishonestly and with intention to deprive Hutchison of its fair share of the proceeds of his fraud and fraudulently participated in transactions for his own personal benefit and benefit of the defendants,” presiding Judge Andrew Chang said.
Jimmy Lai found guilty of fraud
Prosecutors had pressed for a four-year sentence with one year of a non-custodial sentence suspended for three years.
Lai’s representative, John Lai, said the defense will appeal the verdict and conviction.
At the beginning of the proceedings, Chang noted the burden of the evidence, and said the last two years had been “grim” for Lai and his family.
It is the first time that a tycoon has been jailed for criminal breach of trust in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s first sentencing to a crown charge (emblematic of an individual being responsible for all criminal activity).
Li Ka-shing and his siblings accepted an 85% stake in Li Telecom from Jimmy Lai in 2008, and Li has offered a deal worth $12 billion to Lai, in return for him dropping civil claims relating to previous deals involving his properties.
Along with Jimmy Lai, five others were arrested and charged over the alleged crime. A separate and more complicated battle over the legacy of the Carrefour supermarket chain, Li’s Hong Kong retail empire, has also taken place between Li Ka-shing and his sons since 2015.
CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.