Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) paid HK$3.15 million and offered land to representatives of Shan Pui Tsuen to counter opposition to its Yuen Long development in the 1990s.
FactWire received an anonymous complaint claiming SHKP, which made the offer through a representative company, reneged on their offer of land.
It was also discovered that the village representatives who signed the deal on behalf of the village were acting unilaterally, and the agreement has since been a point of contention for Shan Pui Tsuen residents.
Letters from lawyers, meeting minutes and other documents confirmed the existence of the agreement. Such deals are often signed with New Territories villages for land development, according to people familiar with the matter.
According to the documents, the land offered to Shan Pui Tsuen representatives is 60 meters away from SHKP’s The Parcville residential development.
Heavy overgrowth was seen at the site during a recent visit by FactWire and the fence surrounding it was covered with plants.
The agreement dated July 1997 says Truebright Investments Limited, a company representing the developer, had plans to develop a section of the land, which is currently The Parcville in Yuen Long.
A sum of HK$3.15 million would be donated for the construction of three village houses, the agreement said.
In exchange, Truebright wanted Shan Pui Tsuen representatives to gain the villagers’ consent for development.
Another clause in the agreement repeatedly emphasised that Shan Pui Tsuen would not object to any development.
It stipulated the land being offered should be transferred to Shan Pui Tsuen or its representative within one month of the Planning Department’s approval or within one month of the agreement’s signing.
The HK$3.15 million would also be immediately handed over to village representatives. The agreement said if the construction for the three village houses exceeds that amount, the developer would not cover the additional cost.
Truebright Investments was founded in 1986. Its shares were transferred to SHKP on February 7, 2001.
Before the transfer, members of the firm’s management included the former convener of the Executive Council, chairman of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, former acting registrar of the Court of Final Appeal and a current non-executive director of SHKP.
Although its shares were officially transferred in 2001, Truebright was seen to be close with SHKP.
Truebright was categorised as a major subsidiary of SHKP in the developer’s 2000/01 annual report.
According to SHKP’s 1999/2000 annual report, The Parcville was their major property development project.
The land mentioned in the agreement between Truebright and Shan Pui Tsuen was held by SHKP subsidiary Geoffrey Holdings Limited at the time the agreement was signed, according to the Land Registry.
Factwire obtained an unsigned version of the agreement document, but was unable to verify if its content was identical to the signed agreement.
The authenticity of the agreement’s content, however, was verified through multiple sources, including a letter from Vincent T.K. Cheung, Yap & Co Solicitors and Notaries who on September 30, 1999 was representing Truebright in its dealings with Shan Pui Tsuen.
The letter lists two commitments from the agreement including the land offer and the sum of money for the construction of three village houses.
It stated the structures were to be constructed for the welfare of the villagers.
The letter added that SHKP had fulfilled all its commitments.
The law firm said they could not answer FactWire’s questions, including whether or not they issued the letter.
Factwire also obtained a letter, dated July 23, 2018, from Foo and Li Solicitors and Notaries in reply to Lam Yan Hing Tong, the ancestral hall of Shan Pui Tsuen.
It mentioned Truebright promised to give the land to Shan Pui Tsuen and that it was Lam Chiu-kuen, Lam Ting-bong and Lam Yuk-cheong who signed it with Truebright, instead of Lam Yan Hing Tong.
Foo and Li Solicitors and Notaries confirmed they issued the letter.
Errors in the text of the agreement document obtained by FactWire were also discovered, including the misspelling of Truebright Investments.
Other documents also showed discrepancies in the lot number for the land.
Lam Kwok-kai, the manager of Lam Yan Hing Tong said this is not unheard of when dealing with property developers, claiming that these errors would make it difficult to bring developers to court.
In a written reply to FactWire, SHKP said it promised to donate an amount of money and a piece of land as a gift to all the male and female villagers in Shan Pui Tsuen for their common welfare during the development of The Parcville, in order to promote the well-being of villagers.
It added the donation of money has already been received and signed for by the then lawful village representatives.
On the donation of land, SHKP said Shan Pui Tsuen and its representatives to this point have not signed the land transferal agreement. As such, the land transferal procedure has not been completed.
It added that SHKP has already reminded Shan Pui Tsuen and its relevant representatives to finish the appropriate procedures of land transferal as soon as possible in writing.
SHKP emphasised that it is ready and happy to transfer the land at any time to Shan Pui Tsuen’s legal representatives or its appointed nominee, as promised.
SHKP also said that the land it promised was a part of DD115 Lot 1212 SC ss3 RP, about 4,600 square feet in size.
However, when Factwire requested the exact lot number of the specific land, SHKP said they currently have no further information to provide.
The agreement between Shan Pui Tsuen representatives and Truebright has been the subject of village disputes for two decades.
The ancestral hall and some villagers were not satisfied that the agreement was privately signed by some representatives. They asked one of the signatories, Lam Chiu-kuen, why he revealed the signing two years afterward.
Some villagers said that the millions received by Lam had disappeared and that they intended to seek assistance from authorities.
FactWire obtained records of meetings at Lam Yan Hing Tong which showed that in 1999, members of the ancestral hall questioned the legality of the agreement as it was signed without its consent.
Ancestral hall members also asked whether there were additional clauses in the agreement and about the status of the money, according to meeting records from April 25, 1999.
Lam Chiu-kuen responded that no other conditions were included in the agreement.
When queried by FactWire, Lam Chiu-kuen confirmed his signature on the records of the meeting and admitted he had signed the agreement on behalf of Shan Pui Tsuen with a company representing SHKP and received HK$3.15 million.
Lam explained that he received the money on behalf of the villagers and the money was deposited into a joint bank account between the current village representatives Lam Ting-bong, Lam Woon-fu and himself.
The money, together with land income, has increased to more than HK$7 million after 22 years, he said.
He added that they are still chasing up with SHKP on the land offer.
Lam Ting-bong, who also signed the agreement with Truebright, said this is an internal matter for the village and refused to be interviewed, while Lam Yuk-cheong, who co-signed the agreement, has since emigrated.
Lam Woon-fu, who is one of the holders of the joint bank account, refused to be interviewed. The meeting minutes were documented by hand. Several villagers who attended the meetings verified the signatures on the records after being contacted by FactWire.
An anonymous source who helped developers acquire land in the New Territories said the act of entering into an agreement with a village for land development is a common practice.
A typical agreement would include details on the compensation to villagers in exchange for their consent for land development.
He added that it is the responsibility of the village head or the manager of the ancestral hall to notify villagers of such deals, and it is common that village heads would sign private deals with developers.
Built in August 2002, The Parcville has 1,618 residential flats. Documents from the Lands Department show that it was developed by SHKP and Truebright Investments Limited.
If the three village houses were built on the land that was offered in the agreement, its current market value would be around HK$56.7 million, according to the prices of nearby properties.