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Birmingham's Yeung faces money-laundering verdict

26 February 2014, 09:16

Hong Kong - Hong Kong businessman and Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung faces up to 14 years in jail if found guilty at the close of his multi-million dollar money-laundering trial on Friday.

For over two years the case has been in the courts, with the 53-year-old denying five charges totalling $93 million and repeatedly trying to have the proceedings halted, claiming irregularities.

Yeung was arrested and charged with ill-gotten gains in the southern Chinese city in June 2011, throwing the legitimacy of his rags-to-riches rise from hairdresser to top-flight English football club proprietor into doubt.

The prosecution claims around HK$720 million ($93 million) passed through bank accounts connected to Yeung between 2001 and 2007.

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of money laundering can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.

Yeung, who acquired the "Blues" in 2009, pleaded not guilty to all the charges in April last year. He has maintained his innocence from the start and has tried to have the case postponed at least twice.

Throughout the trial, Yeung and the prosecution have painted differing pictures of how the businessman's wealth was amassed.

Yeung said he accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars through stock trading, hairdressing, business ventures in mainland China and a keen interest in gambling.

He said he made HK$20 million as a hairdresser between 1989 to 1994, when he ran five upmarket hair salons in hotels, including Hong Kong's five-star Peninsula Hotel.

Yeung described himself as a "very famous" hairdresser, claiming his salons catered to movie stars and businessmen.

He also said he spent "all" of his time trading stocks after the 1998 Asian stock market crash, accumulating a stock portfolio of around HK$300 million by 2007.

Yeung told the court he made up to HK$30 million from gambling in Macau between 2004 and 2008, adding that he gambled as if he were "running a business".

Prosecutor John Reading argued that Yeung's accounts showed that before 2001 he was a man of "modest means".

Between 1997 and 1999 Yeung earned around HK$335,000 ($43,000) from his hair salon, while his father made only a tiny profit from a vegetable stall he ran from the public housing estate where he lived, Reading said.

Prosecutors also suggested a link between Yeung and Cheung Chi-tai, an alleged triad boss. Yeung denied any knowledge of Cheung belonging to a triad group.

The verdict in the long-delayed trial will be watched closely by Birmingham City fans, who have protested in their hundreds against Yeung's ownership.

Yeung, who was little known prior to his emergence in English football, took control of the club in October 2009 in an 81-million pound ($130 million) takeover from David Sullivan and David Gold, now the co-owners of West Ham.

Earlier this month Yeung, resigned as chairman and executive director of Birmingham International Holdings Limited (BIHL), which owns the struggling second-tier club.

The Blues won the League Cup in 2011, but their fortunes have gone downhill since they were relegated later that year.

BIHL chief executive Peter Pannu has said the future of the club is "bright", saying a new chairman will lead the club "in the right direction".



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