Birmingham City owner’s trial delayed in Hong Kong

HONG KONG: Lawyers for Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung insisted Wednesday there was nothing suspicious about the former hairdresser’s rags-to-riches rise, as his money-laundering trial was postponed.

Yeung’s defence team pleaded for more time to prepare their rebuttal to charges that the 52-year-old football tycoon knowingly dealt in ill-gotten gains worth tens of millions of dollars.

The judge in a Hong Kong court where Yeung’s trial was scheduled to start on Wednesday agreed to the defence lawyers’ request, and put back the trial date to April 29 next year.

The case is set to put Yeung’s wealth under an intense spotlight and will probe his rise from the position of hairdresser to the ownership of the English football club, which plays in the Championship, England’s second tier.

His lawyers are confident they will prove the businessman’s innocence and make it clear he was already a wealthy man before the alleged offences occurred between 2001 and 2007.

“The prosecution’s allegation is simply the fact that he was a hairdresser and now he has so much money,” Joseph Tse, a member of the defence team, told the district court packed with reporters in the southern Chinese city.

“Before 2001 he and his father were people of affluence. They had wealth and assets in China,” Tse said, adding that they had owned a hotel on the mainland.

Relatively unknown before his emergence in English football, Yeung maintained a low profile even after he took control of Birmingham in 2009 in an £81 million ($130 million) takeover from David Sullivan and David Gold, now co-owners of West Ham.

Media reports have described how Yeung made his first fortune on cheap stocks, then increased his earnings by co-founding Greek Mythology, a casino in Asian gambling haven Macau, in 2004.

He was prosecuted by Hong Kong’s financial regulator for failing to disclose his holdings in a company in the same year, and ordered to pay a small fine.

His other business interests include investments in “apparel sourcing trading, entertainment and media services” through Birmingham International Holdings, according to the firm’s listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange website.

Birmingham International Holdings, controlled by Yeung, is the parent company of Birmingham City.

Yeung did not speak to journalists outside court after Wednesday’s adjournment, apart from telling them “don’t chase me”.

The prosecution is planning to call 19 witnesses including forensic experts and bank officials when the trial starts next year, according to the defence. Twenty-five days have been set aside for the trial.

Yeung was arrested and charged in June last year with five counts of “dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence”. He has not entered a plea.

Prosecutors have said about HK$720 million ($93 million) passed through accounts connected to him between 2001 and 2007, although details of the allegations remain unclear.

Yeung has assured Birmingham City he will continue to support the club financially despite his legal problems.

“I have loved football since I was a child. My family were very poor and we didn’t have any money to see the football games, but I loved the sport,” he told Birmingham City’s website in 2007.

“I think football should be for everybody, not just the rich man,” he said.

The club’s fortunes have gone downhill. They were relegated from the Premier League last year, three months after winning the League Cup amid financial troubles.

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