(Published in the The Asian Pacific Post July 24, 2003)
Rigged music awards and bribery scandal linked to powerful and feared tycoon
By Asian Pacific News Service
It is not what he knows but who he knows that makes Albert Yeung Sau Shing, one of Hong Kong's most rich and powerful tycoons.
That "guanxi" or connections also make him one of the most dangerous and feared businessmen in the former British colony.
No stranger to controversy and criminal acts, Albert Yeung is back at a familiar spot this week.
The 57- year-old music mogul and a host of showbiz figures are at the centre of a corruption scandal that has left the lucrative Hong Kong's Canto-pop industry reeling.
Yeung and singer Juno Mak were among 30 arrested in connection with the corruption allegations over preferential treatment of "a number of singers, including the promotion of these singers and their hits on a music billboard," Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said.
The graft watchdog said employees of the record and entertainment companies were alleged to have offered bribes to broadcasting figures in exchange for ensuring songs from their singers were given high chart placings.
The ICAC also said it was investigating allegations that bribes had been offered in exchange for securing various music awards.
The case is believed to be one of the largest inquiries into alleged impropriety in the Hong Kong entertainment industry.
As well as Yeung, chairman of the Emperor Group, others arrested reportedly included senior executives from TVB, Hong Kongs leading television station, singer Mak and his father Clement Mak, who is the chairman of CCT Telecom.
Singers Nicholas Tse and Taiwanese entertainer Dave Wang Chieh were also reported to have been interviewed by ICAC in connection with the case.
Juno Mak picked up the "best interpretation" award during TVB's Solid Gold Awards in January - and was booed by the studio audience.
He has been a favourite target for Hong Kong's lively tabloid-style gossip magazines, who frequently place his musical ability under scrutiny.
Yeung meanwhile is one of the Hong Kong media and entertainment industry's most colourful figures, and has been implicated in a series of high-profile court cases spanning a 20-year period.
He was jailed for nine months in 1981 for attempting to pervert the course of justice, but in 1995 was cleared of criminal intimidation and false imprisonment after all five prosecution witnesses forgot details of offences.
Yeung also escaped a botched kidnap attempt in 1989, and owned the racy Eastweek magazine before it was shut down last year after publishing a photograph of a semi-naked actress taken during a kidnapping in 1991.
The businessman, who set up the Emperor record label in 1999, has been credited with the meteoric rise of Cantopop stars including Nicholas Tse and the Twins.
In four years, Emperor has become the leading record label in Hong Kong and Yeung's artistes have dominated several awards shows.
He declined to comment on the current case. After being released on bail with the others, he just cited thrice the Chinese saying, "yang ji chi yu" according to Hong Kong media.
Literally, it means "disaster brought to the fish of the moat." It refers to bystanders getting into trouble in a disturbance.
Albert Yeung is proud of his ancestry from Chiu Chow, a region in south China famous for breeding tough guys. A Chiu Chow is the Chinese equivalent of a Sicilian.
He is the chairman of Emperor Group, a huge Hong Kong consortium involved in real estate, financial services, watches and jewellery, publishing and other businesses, some of which have direct connections in Canada.
Emperor is also Hong Kong's leading player in the foreign exchange market.
Described as a small man, lively, with a boyish face, Yeung likes to flaunt his wealth.
Reputed for his collection of Rolls Royce and Mercedes Benz cars, all with expensive license plates bearing so called "lucky numbers", Yeung once dropped US.$1.9 million for a registration plate bearing the number 9.
The dapper dresser is according to Canadian organized crime reports closely linked to the triads or the Chinese mafia.
His reputation as a dangerous man has been publicly recorded - something Yeung is said to privately relish.
Shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989, Yeung intensified his courting with the communist elite in Beijing.
Yeung carries his business relationships with the highest officials in the Chinese government as a shield against his doubters, wrote a journalist who met him in the late nineties.
In November 1992, Yeung hosted a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to celebrate the launch of the first private bank in the history of the People's Republic, which Emperor and a subsidiary of the Chinese Ministry of Justice own together.
The following June, the ministry became the second-largest stockholder, after Yeung himself, in Emperor International Group, the publicly traded part of Emperor Group; it purchased 84 million shares, representing 4.74 percent of the company's enlarged capital.
A cooperation pact between the triad societies and the Communist Party also gave Yeung significant position of power.
That pact was made public by Wong Man-fong, the former deputy secretary-general of Xinhua, China's news agency in Hong Kong. Wong said that in the early 1980s, at Beijing's behest, he befriended Hong Kong's triad bosses and made them an offer they could not refuse: China would turn a blind eye to their illegal activities if they would promise to keep peace after the handover.
Yeung's connections reached far and wide.
In the 1990s, former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, spent several years on the boards of two of Yeung's Emperor Group companies.
Hawke said he found Yeung an "honest and honourable" man.
That was just before Hong Kong TV star Spencer Leung got a whack after he lampooned one of Alberts employees, 21-year-old Canto-pop star Joey Yung, and made some remarks about her relationship with her boss.
Another celebrity, Comedian Eric Tsang needed stitches when he was bashed up after ridiculing Yeung at another event.
Not long after, Yeung was charged with threatening to break the leg of a former employee, Michael Lam.
The magnate ended up walking free after Lam told the court he had been "very frightened" and had plum forgotten everything about the alleged incident.
Yeung is also strongly connected to former Hong Kong legislator Rita Fan, who used to work for him and another local tycoon Carl Ching Men-ky.
Carl Ching, who was last year elected to be the head of the International Basketball Federation, was denied an entry to Australia to attend the 2000 Sydney Olympics because the Australian Federal Police claimed that he was associated with organised crime.
Ching is not allowed into Canada because of similar concerns.
In March 1994, former Brooklyn Congressman Stephen J. Solarz was forced to withdraw his bid to become U.S. ambassador to India because he'd had business dealings with Yeung.
Solarz protested that he had believed Yeung to be "totally respectable," until the American consul in Hong Kong told him that Yeung was a triad.
Solarz says he confirmed this accusation to his satisfaction and immediately severed all ties to Yeung.
Yeung denies that he is a triad, or that he is involved in criminal activities, and he attributes the charge to "jealousy" over his success in business, according to journalist Fredric Dannen.
Yeung over the last few years began helping to open up North Korea's business enterprises as a result of his friendship with Kim Jong Il.
His conglomerate operates the Emperor casinos in the North's Najin-Seonbong district, which was designed to attract foreign investment into North Korea, but has been generally unsuccessful.
But not all are open to Yeung's advances.
In a very public rebuff of the Yeungs, Macau casino czar Stanley Ho disapproved of his daughter Pansy Ho's romantic liason with Gilbert Yeung, Albert Yeungs son.
He threatened to disown Pansy, who were among the applicants for a casino licence in British Columbia, during the Glen Clark administration.
Since the early nineties Albert Yeung has been on the radar of Canadian Asian Organised crime investigators.
He was among the targets looked at in the controversial Sidewinder report which attempted to study the linkages between triads, the Chinese government and the Chinese diaspora.
The China-friendly Chretien government dismissed the Sidewinder recommendations for a further thorough study saying the recommendations were based on rumour-laced conspiracy theories.
The Canadian government has however been proven wrong time and again as issues raised in Sidewinder have manifested themselves into real cases.
"I followed Albert's activities as much as I could when I was in Hong Kong," a former Canadian Foreign Service official told the Asian Pacific News Service.
The official said Albert Yeung was a constant topic of discussion among immigration control officers from the U.S, Britain, Australia and Canada.
"We found out later that some of the officers from the U.S. diplomatic mission were connected to Yeung," he said.
Among them was Jim DeBates and his boss Jerry Stuchiner.
Stuchiner was arrested in 1996 in connection with the sale of fake Honduran passports while arrest warrants were issued for DeBates.
Stuchiner was found guilty and jailed for three years. It was reported then that the syndicate was selling genuine and fake passports to businessmen and triad figures.
The then Honduran Consul-General in Hong Kong who was part of the group disappeared.
Albert Yeung was also linked to the former chief of immigration in Hong Kong, Lawrence Leung, who resigned under a cloud of suspicion and was the target of a concerted investigation by Canadian authorities who suspected him of being involved with triads.
Secret police documents obtained by the Asian Pacific Post show that Canadian police worked with their Hong Kong counterparts to track Leung as he prepared to migrate to Canada.
The investigations began in 1993 around the time Leungs daughter Silvia, who had just signed a recording contract in Hong Kong, was killed at the BCIT campus in Burnaby, British Columbia.
The cross-bow murder case remains unresolved.
Documents obtained by the Asian Pacific Post shows that Immigration Canada was informed about the suspicious activities of Lawrence Leung around the time he and his family had applied to come to Canada.
Despite the suspicions and investigations, Leung and his family were granted landed immigrant status and settled down in the tony South Granville area of Vancouver.
In one of the Hong Kong police documents given to Immigration Canada, Leung was tracked to a lunch meeting with Hong Kong businessman Albert Yeung Sau-Shing.
The lunch meeting, including wives was on Aug 4, 1993.
Both Leung and Yeung at that time had applied to migrate to Canada.
The lunch meeting is recorded on an ICAC document as part of an investigation into a fight at the 1997 Lounge in the Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district of Hong Kong.
In that incident on April 10, 1993, Yeung's son Gilbert Yeung Ki-lung and actor Chow Sing-chee were involved in a fight with a designer Wong Chun-yu. Wong sustained serious head injuries. Wong wanted HK$2.5 million in compensation, the ICAC document states.
The ICAC document states that Yeung sought advice on the matter from Asst. Commissioner of Police Lee Lam-chuen who was aware of the case against Gilbert Yeung.
The document states that the senior police officer advised Yeung that prosecution in the case would be unlikely.
Yeung then used intermediaries to bargain down Wongs demand for compensation to HK$1 million, (C$180,000). Yeung, however did not pay up. The document ends by stating "On 4.8.93, Yeung invited Lee Lam-Chuen and ACP Leung Ming-yin, Director of Immigration and their wives to lunch."