Hong Kong housing Market

Bribery has exposed Hong Kong’s precarious real estate market. The government needs to ensure it levels the playing field in an increasingly pricey marketThe scramble for even the smallest piece of real estate in Hong Kong over the last few years has led to the island experiencing an ever-expanding property bubble. It has become so inflated that many people have become priced out of the market. While this has predictably caused resentment from people towards the richest in Hong Kong’s society, the unfolding corruption scandal to hit the island’s real estate market during the last year has merely exacerbated the rage.

Last year, Hong Kong saw a series of prolonged, initially peaceful pro-democracy protests transform into a huge wave of violence as demonstrators complained of potential changes proposed to the electoral system on the island. The news swept around the world, as China’s government faced one of the largest challenges to its authority in recent years.

However, while all this was going on, another similarly damaging story was unfolding in the courtrooms of Hong Kong. Thomas Kwok, the property mogul and billionaire, was being tried in a corruption scandal that had lasted for seven months. Eventually sent to prison for five years, Kwok, 63, was convicted of bribing one of the city’s most senior officials, former deputy leader Rafael Hui.

Houses to be built each year until 2020 in Hong Kong

The scandal went right to the top of Hong Kong’s business and political establishments, with one of the city’s most recognisable business figures and one of its leading politicians at the centre of the issue. It gave Hong Kong’s already angry citizens even more reason to hate the elite, not least because it showed how developers like Kwok were getting unfavourable advantages in an already hugely competitive and astronomically expensive property market.

Family feud
The Kwok brothers have played a prominent role in Hong Kong for many years now and are responsible for a lot of the dazzling new skyline on the island. The owners of Sun Hung Kai Properties – the most valuable real estate company in Asia and second largest in the world – the Kwok brothers have accumulated personal wealth of around $10.6bn each. Their firm has a market value of $32bn, which is around 14 percent of Hong Kong’s entire economy. Sun Hung Kai has become renowned for constructing some of Hong Kong’s tallest and most eye-catching buildings. These include the International Commerce Centre (ICC), which was built in 2010 and is the city’s tallest building. It is the world’s eighth tallest, and houses a number of leading businesses. It is one of many Sun Hung Kai buildings that adorn the city’s skyline, and shows how the city has become the financial capital of Asia over the last two decades since being returned to China by the British.

The Kwok family got their wealth from their mainland-China born father Kwok Tak-seng, who immigrated to Hong Kong after the Second World War. The family were in the news during the 1990s when Thomas Kwok’s elder brother Walter was kidnapped, kept within a wooden crate and tortured for days as part of the gangster Cheung Tze-keung’s efforts to bribe Hong Kong’s richest 10 citizens. The Kwok family eventually paid the ransom of HKD 600m ($77.37m), although Cheung was eventually caught and executed in 1998.

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