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Macau Money Trail Leads to Prison

Carson Yeung, the Hong Kong owner of England’s Birmingham City football club, has been sentenced to prison by a court in his native city for money laundering. The exact trail of the illicit funds is still obscure, but the signs point to Macau’s VIP rooms.

A Hong Kong businessman and erstwhile sportsman with ties to Macau’s casino industry has been sentenced by a Hong Kong court to six years in prison for money laundering.

Carson Yeung, 54, a self-made millionaire best known for his 2009 purchase of Birmingham City Football Club in England’s Championship League, was convicted on five counts involving some HK$721 million in illicit transactions over the course of several years.

The trial cast a rare spotlight on some of the shadowy channels and methods used by underground banks and other entities in moving money between China, Hong Kong and Macau.

“Maintaining the integrity of the banking system is of paramount importance if Hong Kong is to remain an international finance center,” said District Court Judge Douglas Yau in passing sentence.

The trial, which lasted more than 50 days, revealed Yeung’s close ties to Macau’s casino world, both as an investor and gambler. Yeung told the court how he first started gambling in the city around 1997 and in 2004 was introduced to a VIP room at SJM’s Casino Lisboa run by junket promoter Neptune. In 2005, two businessmen, one with reputed ties to Chinese organized crime, offered Yeung the chance to invest in Neptune. Yeung subsequently received hundreds of cash deposits of unclear provenance for what he claimed were gambling winnings. These included cash payments from one of the businessmen and a series of checks worth HK$72.5 million from SJM, the casino operating company founded by casino tycoon Stanley Ho and now part of publicly traded SJM Holdings.

Prosecutors admitted many aspects of the case remain unsolved including, crucially, the origin of much of the laundered cash. Their investigation is continuing, according to news reports.

Yeung resigned last month as head of Birmingham City and its holding company.

Reports said his lawyers declined to comment on whether he would appeal.