HONG KONG -- Government prosecutors expect to wrap up their case this week in a sensational murder trial that has placed a spotlight on the biggest financial collapse in Hong Kong's history.
A Malaysian businessman is charged with strangling a Kuala Lumpur banker who refused to bail out the $3-billion Carrian corporate empire with a critical loan.
Carrian, a chain of some 200 companies built on intertwining loans, owed some $1.5 billion to Asian, European and American banks when it went bankrupt last fall.
The scandal has already forced leading banks to question their lending practices, prompted calls for a reining in of Hong Kong's free-wheeling markets and apparently led a prominent attorney to drown himself in his backyard pool rather than face investigators.
Attention now is focused on Hong Kong's High Court, where the intricate saga of the fall of the house of Carrian -- the colony's largest bankruptcy ever -- has begun to trickle out.
Prosecutor Anthony Duckett said he expected to complete his case this week against Malaysian businessman Mak Foon-than, 32.
Prosecutors contend Mak used a bathrobe belt to strangle Jalil Ibrahim, an official of Malaysia's Bank Bumiputra, in a posh hotel last July. They say Jalil had balked at approving a further $4 million loan to Carrian.
Although involved in enterprises ranging from fast-food to shipping, Carrian was based on property deals and faltered when Hong Kong real estate values plunged last year.
'It was really like a house of cards,' Justice Rory O'Connor said last week when he heard the testimony of an executive whose finance firm tried to help salvage Carrian. 'Take one away, and it all falls.'
The government contends the BMP loan would have been used to make a payment which Carrian investors regarded as a critical test of the firm's viability.
Mak, in statements to police made public at the trial, claimed Jalil was killed by a shadowy Korean who bundled the body into a large suitcase and dumped it in the banana grove where it was found two days later.
Mak, who admitted helping dispose of the body, said the Korean told him 'George' had issued the death warrant -- a reference, prosecutors believe, to George Tan, Carrian's chairman.
Mak also claimed he had come to Hong Kong on business at the personal behest of Malaysia's finance minister, who has since branded the statement 'wild and blatant lies.'
The reference raised eyebrows because Bumiputra, Malaysia's top bank, was Carrian's biggest creditor with $500 million in loans. Citibank and Chase Manhattan, among others, also were reported to have braced for losses.
Tan, 49, and his top aide, Bentley Ho, 36, were arrested last October and charged with making false statements as Carrian directors. Their trial is not expected until fall. Several investigations are under way and neither man would consent to an interview.
'We are particularly concerned about the publicity given this case,' said Tan's attorney, Martin Lee. 'We have been told there will be further charges. But we still haven't got them and we don't know what they will be.'