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Former Macao official on trial over US$100m kickbacks
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A former senior official went on trial yesterday charged with taking USUS$100 million in kickbacks in the gambling resort of Macao, where analysts warned organized crime was once again taking root.

Former transport and public works secretary Ao Man-long was arrested in December and faces 76 counts of taking bribes, money laundering and abuse of power. He is the highest official ever charged with corruption and the trial is the biggest since the territory returned to China in 1999.

Ao arrived at a packed court in a convoy of police and prison vehicles yesterday morning.

He is being tried by a three-judge panel at the Court of Final Appeal - Macao's highest court - because of his seniority. The former minister could face up to 25 years in jail if convicted.

Chief Justice Sam Hou Fai read out the charges against Ao, which included taking kickbacks from construction companies in return for ensuring they won lucrative deals in both the public and private sectors.

In a four-month investigation, anti-graft officials said they uncovered assets worth about 800 million patacas (US$100 million), or 57 times more than Ao's family income over the seven-year period, and that many of the assets had been deposited in bank accounts in Hong Kong and London.

Macao is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.

The territory - less than one-sixth the size of Washington, DC - is struggling to shake off its reputation for gangland warfare and attract Western casino resorts.

Since 2002, when the government broke up a casino monopoly, foreign investment has flooded in, with Las Vegas operators such as Steve Wynn and billionaire Sheldon Adelson opening luxury gambling resorts, including Adelson's US$2.4 billion Venetian.

The chief justice said Ao demanded a 3 percent introduction fee for recommending construction companies to Western developers. There was no evidence any of the Western developers used the companies Ao suggested.

Ao's lawyer said the first of more than 100 witnesses, including many civil servants, will give evidence on Friday. The trial is expected to last more than a month.

(China Daily November 6, 2007)

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