Newspapers told to pay ex-envoy $1.6m

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 July, 1996, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Standard and its Chinese sister newspaper, the Sing Tao Daily, were hit by a $1.6 million libel judgment yesterday, after claiming a former vice-consul was sacked over a passport scandal.

In a judgment handed down by Mrs Justice Doreen le Pichon in the High Court, Robert Chan Hung-yuen was awarded $700,000 for the defamatory story in the Standard.

He was awarded $900,000 for a version of the same story published in Sing Tao.

The Chinese newspaper had admitted liability for the article it published.

Mr Chan, a solicitor, was appointed honorary vice-consul for Paraguay in November 1989. But in August 1994 his job was terminated.

The front page Hong Kong Standard article, written on September 15, 1994, by diplomatic editor Neville de Silva and reporter Rukie Hussain, claimed Mr Chan had been sacked after an investigation into a passport scam.

Mr Chan maintained there was a difference between being 'terminated' and 'sacked'.

He said he felt 'shocked, humiliated and outraged' by the article, titled 'Paraguay sacks honorary consul'.

The Sing Tao Daily proclaimed: 'Paraguay honorary consul(s) sacked again in connection with selling passports'.

'This is a serious libel of a professional man,' Mrs Justice le Pichon said. 'Mr Chan has been under the shadow of this libel for almost two years.

'There has been no retraction or apology. Rather, efforts were made to the end to prove Mr Chan wrong, despite the absence of reasonable grounds for doing so.' The judge awarded the sum to Mr Chan to help 'restore his pride and confidence', and to 'convince a bystander of the baselessness of the charge'.

She said the newspaper publishing group then added 'insult to injury' by describing Mr Chan's action as 'an exercise in gold-digging'.

Mr Chan told the South China Morning Post he felt vindicated by the judgment, which he said cleared his reputation.

Mr Chan had originally sought a published apology from the Standard and a $50,000 donation to the UN Children's Fund.

He was reluctant to speak further because of legal action pending against the San Francisco and Vancouver editions of the Sing Tao Daily.

He said he became aware that the story had gone round the world when friends began calling him about his lawsuit.