Ex-warder who doctored drinks jailed for 14 years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 1995, 12:00am

A FORMER prison officer who doctored drink cartons in shops with a powerful sedative and then robbed his unsuspecting victims was jailed for 14 years yesterday.

The High Court heard Kwok Yuk-ho embarked upon the crime spree after his marriage, career and finances collapsed.

The 37-year-old former Correctional Services officer admitted snatching his victims' wallets as they passed out or fell into a stupor. He would then play the Good Samaritan, sometimes escorting dazed women home.

He also pleaded guilty to blackmail after holding one of the victims captive for three days while trying to get money from her family.

'Your behaviour caused fear in the public,' Mr Justice Yeung said before passing sentence.

'Convenience stores are very popular in Hong Kong and people are entitled to feel safe while patronising those stores,' he added.

Between July 19 last year and February 20, Kwok injected 10 containers of Vita lemon or chrysanthemum tea with the sleeping drug Rohypnol.

He would shadow his victims after they had bought the doctored drinks from 7-Eleven or Circle K convenience stores until the drug began to take hold. Their wallets would then be taken.

When his confused victims began to regain consciousness, he would pretend to help them while tricking them into revealing their PIN numbers.

Kwok would then help his victims into taxis before going to the nearest bank machine and draining their accounts.

Over the course of seven months, Kwok stole a total of $391,654.

On February 20, he decided to take his crimes a step further by taking victim Li Lai-yee, [victim called Lee Lai-see in all other stories] 25, to his home and keeping her there. Kwok contacted her family the next day and demanded $250,000 for her safe return.

But when they only deposited $70,000 in her bank account by February 23, Kwok took her to Princess Margaret Hospital and left her in a wheelchair in the emergency ward.

She had been fed four Rohypnol tablets a day and was suffering from an overdose, said prosecutor Peter Nguyen. She spent the next week in hospital.

Kwok worked as a prison officer for 15 years. But his career ended in 1993 when he was convicted and fined for stealing a Rolex watch.

Financial ruin loomed for Kwok. He and his business partner had borrowed $250,000 to buy a lorry for their haulage business, but his partner disappeared with the vehicle.

He tried to win the money back by gambling, but ended up owing more money to loansharks, defence lawyer John Mullick said.

Kwok's marriage was also in tatters and his wife had demanded a divorce. It was against this backdrop of despair he turned to crime, Mr Mullick said.

'This is a man who began his adult life as a respectable person and then fell by the wayside,' the lawyer told the High Court.

He said Kwok had contacted the police shortly after seizing Miss Li, promising to turn himself in.