HONG KONG (AP)
Birmingham owner Carson Yeung pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges Monday as the Hong Kong businessman’s lawyer asked for the case to be thrown out, the latest wrinkle in a drawn-out legal battle.
Lawyer Graham Harris outlined his arguments for a permanent stay of proceedings to Hong Kong District Court Judge Douglas Yau, saying that police delays would result in an unfair trial. He spoke after Yeung, a former hairdresser, pleaded not guilty to five counts of money laundering involving more than 720 million Hong Kong dollars ($92 million).
The charges involve money deposited into bank accounts from January 2001 to December 2007 ?before he won a takeover battle for English football club Birmingham in October 2009 for 81.5 million pounds (then $130 million).
Harris told the judge that police started investigating Yeung’s financial transactions in 2008 but didn’t arrest him until June 2011, 10 years after the alleged wrongdoing began. He said the elapsed time meant that Yeung’s lawyers lost the opportunity to obtain documents such as bank statements, stock trading statements and tax returns related to earlier transactions that could help his defense. That’s because financial institutions in Hong Kong are only required to hold on to such documents for the previous seven years.
“These five charges are unfair,” Harris said. “The accused and the legal team, through no fault of their own, have been denied the opportunity to access documentary material which may support the accused’s position.
“In all circumstances, it would be unfair for the accused to be tried.”
Yeung’s application, on what was supposed to be the first day of his trial, follows several delaying attempts. In March, his lawyers unsuccessfully asked for the case to be moved to the High Court for a jury trial. Last year they won a request to delay the trial’s scheduled November start so they could have more time to prepare.
Harris said documentation has been lost or destroyed for transactions at eight stock brokerages, mostly involving withdrawals. But prosecutor John Reading said his aim was to establish the source of the money, which he alleged were “criminal proceeds,” and because the brokerages were not the source, the transactions weren’t relevant.
Reading said there was “nothing to suggest” Yeung would receive an unfair trial.
Birmingham won the 2011 League Cup, ending 48 years without a major trophy, but despite the victory was relegated from the Premier League the same year.
Before his takeover of Birmingham, Yeung was a little-known businessman who reportedly invested in a Macau casino and owned a stake in a Hong Kong newspaper. His only previous experience with professional football consisted of a stint as chairman of Hong Kong Rangers Football Club from 2005-06.
The judge will issue his decision on Friday.
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