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Top Macau official denies money laundering

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Top Macau official denies money laundering

by International Herald Tribune

Macau's former transport minister, charged with taking tens of millions of dollars (euros) in kickbacks, refused to directly address the allegations Wednesday, the second day of the southern Chinese gambling enclave's biggest-ever graft trial.

Ao Man-long, a former transport and public works secretary, was arrested last December and faces 76 counts of taking bribes, laundering money and abusing power. Ao is the highest official ever charged with corruption in the former Portuguese enclave, which returned to Chinese rule in 1999.

In a four-month investigation, anti-graft officials said they uncovered assets worth about 800 million patacas (US$100 million; €69 million), or 57 times more than Ao's family income over his seven-year term.

Asked to respond to allegations that he approved public works contracts in return for kickbacks, Ao only said he had the authority to approve contracts up to 6 million patacas (US$750,000; €515,570),

according to Hong Kong's Cable TV. He told the court that projects exceeding that amount required the approval of his senior, the report said.

Ho did not say who his senior was, but at that time he reported directly to the territory's leader, Edmund Ho.

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Ao's defense counsel Nuno Simoes earlier told The Associated Press that Ho is not on the witness list, which includes more than 100 people, including many civil servants.

Ao denied allegations that he had set up numerous shell companies and bank accounts in Hong Kong and London to receive and transfer illegal gains. He said they were ordinary companies and accounts for proper business transactions within the law.

But he admitted negligence in declaring his assets when he assumed office in 1999, Cable TV said.
Due to his seniority, Ao was being tried by a three-judge panel at the Court of Final Appeal, Macau's highest court. The former minister could face up to 25 years in jail if convicted.

Macau, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of Hong Kong, is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. It has attracted top U.S. casino operators over the years and last year raked in more gaming revenue than the Las Vegas strip.


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