Hong Kong’s corruption-linked Kwok brothers profit from refugee misery

Panama Papers show Kwok brothers control company running Australia’s notorious offshore refugee camps

Socialist Action reporters in Hong Kong

The Panama Papers, leaked documents from Panama-based law firm Massock Fonseca, are creating scandal and political crises around the world. The papers, highlighted in a report by ICIJ, give details of how the world’s financial elite engages in financial trickery and tax evasion “on an industrial scale” in the words of UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in order to hide its wealth from the public.

Among the tycoons whose murky business affairs are exposed in the report are Thomas and Raymond Kwok, owners of Hong Kong’s biggest real estate conglomerate, Sun Hung Kai Properties. Thomas Kwok is serving a five-year jail term for corruption, along with former top government official Rafael Hui, who took huge bribes from Kwok. The case against the Kwok brothers was Hong Kong’s biggest ever corruption trial. Raymond Kwok was also charged with corruption but acquitted.

The Panama Papers reveal that the Kwok brothers have a controlling stake in the company that runs Australia’s brutal offshore refugee prison camps. Wilson Security, now confirmed as being under the Kwok’s control, has reportedly made half a billion dollars from Australian taxpayers for running the camps. The camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru resemble Second World War prisoner-of-war camps. The fact that refugee policies are handled by a company whose owners have been involved in massive corruption has led Australian politicians to demand that Wilson’s contract is terminated.

Refugees at the Manus Island camp.
Refugees at the Manus Island camp.

Human rights violations

Australia’s racist refugee policies, under which all asylum seekers are held in prison camps, has long been criticised by human rights groups and the United Nations. Around 1,000 children were being held in the camps in 2014. A report from Human Rights Watch last year noted that, “Staff working at detention centres gave evidence that conditions were substandard, unsafe, and inappropriate.” Amnesty International says the Australian policy causes “a host of human rights violations”.

More recently, the Australian government has been moving refugees intercepted in boats trying to make their way to Australia to camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea – 4,800 kilometers away from Australia. These camps are run by Wilson Security. Human rights campaigners have slammed the conditions in these camps as overcrowded and inhumane, with refugees housed in dilapidated buildings. Last year 700 refugees at the Manus Island camp took part in a hunger strike against their ill-treatment.

The revelations linking the Kwoks’ business empire to inhumane practices against refugees are highly topical at a time when the Hong Kong government and its cheer leaders in the pro-government bloc are whipping up anti-refugee feelings and demanding tougher policies to deter “fake refugees”.

Camps mean profits!

Several pro-government figures including Regina Ip – she of ‘Article 23’ infamy – have called for a closed camp to be built for all Hong Kong refugees, emulating the Australian policy. As in Australia, the capitalist establishment in Hong Kong is using racism and anti-refugee propaganda to distract attention from its own political failings and lack of popular support. This is reaching deafening levels today as the Legislative Council elections draw near.

The example of the Kwoks and Wilson Security shows that inhumane treatment of those fleeing war, hunger and persecution has become a highly profitable private business. It also shows that hypocritical politicians are not concerned about who they give this business to, even convicted criminals. Capitalism is a sick system in which refugees are demonised and treated with the most brutal methods while corrupt tycoons are rewarded.

The Panama papers expose the wholesale cheating and tax evasion of the global capitalist elite. The scandal is claiming political casualties around the world, including the Prime Minister of Iceland who was forced to resign just days after publication of the report. Relatives of Chinese leaders Xi Jinping, Zhang Gaoli and former leaders Wen Jiabao and Li Peng are among those who have set up shell companies to hide their assets.

For more reading on the Panama Papers.