Judge threatens to jail directors for breaking environment law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 December, 1994, 12:00am

A HIGH Court judge yesterday warned unscrupulous companies they could expect harsh treatment if they put profit above the world's 'ecological well-being'.

In a tough green message, Mr Justice Duffy said offenders faced maximum penalties of two years' jail and $1 million fines for flouting laws designed to protect the ozone layer.

He was speaking after two company directors and a shipping firm which exported 296 drums of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases to North Korea decided to ditch their appeal against fines totalling $560,000.

Tsui Chit-fan, 57, and Kam Shuk-wing, 56, were the first traders to be prosecuted under the Ozone Layer Protection Ordinance for exporting dangerous chemicals without a licence.

Mr Justice Duffy said: 'It is, in my view, incumbent on the courts of Hong Kong to ensure the message of this legislation is clearly and without equivocation brought home to all those involved with substances which endanger our environment.

'The courts must ensure that the penalties imposed adequately reflect the community's determination to protect its own environment and to observe international obligations under various environmental protection agreements.

'And [they must] ensure that these penalties are a real deterrent against those who list profit above our ecological well-being.' Mr Justice Duffy said the ordinance, which was introduced in 1989, had deliberately set high penalties because of the grave consequences of damaging the environment.

Tsui and Kam were fined $160,000 each at South Kowloon Court on September 2 after pleading guilty to exporting six CFC shipments between August 1992 and October 1993.

The business partners, who run Swell Trading Company, are also directors of High Link Shipping Company, which transported the drums to North Korea.

Magistrate David Dufton fined High Link $160,000 for the same offence and $80,000 for not describing the cargo accurately in export documents.

Before Clive Grossman QC outlined Tsui's and Kam's reasons for appeal, Mr Justice Duffy indicated he did not think the fines were adequate.

The traders decided to drop their appeal after the judge warned them he had the power to increase sentences.