It hasn’t just been the Hong Kong public that has followed Carson Yeung Ka-sing’s rise and his demise with mouths agape. Fans of Birmingham City and football followers across the globe point to the story of an indictment of how the game is being administered in Britain.
The one-time hairdresser made himself into a millionaire many times over before he appeared out of the blue to take control of the English club, steering it to its best-ever result with a 2-1 League Cup win over Arsenal at Wembley Stadium in 2011.
That much was known. But what was revealed during the court case that left Yeung languishing inside Stanley Prison for the next six years gave a staggering insight into the labyrinth-like dealings of a man who once cut hair for Hong Kong’s rich and famous, but then – according to his testimony – played hard on the stock exchange and won.
Money laundering was what triggered Yeung’s collapse, but life-long Birmingham City fan Daniel Ivery and local solicitor Will Giles (with help of illustrations from the South China Morning Post’s Harry Harrison) bring much more to the plate in what should be required reading for anyone interested in the myriad deals and connections that make up the modern Chinese business world, and in the laws of Hong Kong.
That you can follow it all is credit to the authors’ casual style and dedication to the task at hand. No stone has been left unturned in an effort to paint a picture of Yeung and to make the facts understandable even to someone whose eyes usually glaze over at mention of accounting or law. The man himself has never made things easy in that regard. In sentencing Yeung, Judge Douglas Yau Tak-hong said he found him to be “someone who is prepared to, and did, lie whenever he felt the need to”, which may well be.
Yeung did himself no favours either in contradicting witnesses called by his own defence team and in not being able to remember anything much. But does that make him guilty of the crime for which he was charged? As Giles explains, in such cases in Hong Kong those accused are rarely cleared of the charges and the book opens up the debate about a crime for which one local silk recently commented that the courts “start with guilty and work their way down from there”.
Ivery became embroiled in the saga via the work he posts on the Often Partisan Birmingham fan site and gives the non-committed a first-hand feel of what it was like for the fans of the club as they watched their fortunes unravel along with Yeung’s. The cast of shadowy figures lurking in the club’s background – and in Yeung’s – will make your head spin.
* Book review originally appeared in South China Morning Post on 26 October 2014.