A Hong Kong developer and 11 indigenous villagers face sentencing on Friday after being convicted of fraud over secret deals to sell land rights.
They were found guilty of making false claims that they were land owners in order to obtain building licenses from the government, Ming Pao Daily reports.
The offenses took place between 2008 and 2011.
The villagers closed deals with David Li Yam-pui, 82, who runs Full Wealthy Development, according to court documents.
They received HK$130,000 (US$16,770) to HK$250,000 from the sale of land rights.
The small house policy (SHP), introduced in 1972, grants male indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories who are 18 and above a one-time right to build a small house, known as ting uk, subject to government approval.
They can either apply for a free building license to build a small house on their own land at no land premium or obtain a private treaty grant of government land, if available, at a concessionary premium.
Judge Sham Siu-man criticized the defendants, saying they are no different from welfare cheats.
Selling their rights to a developer is contrary to the aims of SHP and their rights are not meant to be abused to make quick money, Sham said.
Barrister Ronny Tong told Apple Daily that the sale of land rights is only a civil law offense.
He said the government should criminalize it to deter abuse.
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