Paragon ruling may be appealed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 April, 1998, 12:00am

The Government is considering appealing against the High Court's decision last week on the Paragon and CNPC (Hong Kong) insider dealing case, in a bid to avoid the time and expense of appointing a fresh tribunal to investigate it.

Justice Raymond Sears last week quashed the findings of the tribunal which looked into the activities of the two companies and banned the report from being made public.

The tribunal was chaired by Justice David Yam Yee-kwan with two independent lay-members.

Several people were alleged to have earned $30 million by trading the company's shares based on insider information between March and May 1993.

The hearing, which began in 1996 and heard the bulk of the evidence over six months, is estimated to have cost taxpayers $40 million. Mr Justice Yam delivered his report to the Financial Secretary on June 9 last year.

Justice Sears quashed the results of the report as Mr Justice Yam had held 39 hours of clandestine meetings; had ordered the destruction of a draft report; had taken evidence behind closed doors, and had used a tribunal counsel barrister to 'ghost write' the final report.

Lawyers for Paragon were never told about the closed-door discussions, even though evidence affecting their clients was discussed.

The meetings were revealed when Tan Leong Min - one of two Malaysian businessmen named by the tribunal - was charged for not appearing at the inquiry.

Justice Sears' decision means the Government would need to appoint a new tribunal to review the case again.

A government source said it was considering appealing.

'The appointment of another tribunal would take more time and money. The government will appeal to keep the findings of the last tribunal,' he said.

Some lawyers have called for a review of the power of the insider dealing tribunal system as people implicated in a tribunal case have less protection than those involved in a civil or criminal case, as their fate is reliant on the decision of a single judge.

In civil hearings, the borders of the case are defined by the pleadings. In a criminal case, it is the indictment which sets out the crime, and the prosecution cannot step beyond the charges laid.

In an insider dealing tribunal, implicated people do not know what questions will be asked or whether they will be presented with new evidence.

The source said there was no reason to change the tribunal system.

'The system has existed for a long time and has worked successfully. We always need to rely on the fairness of the judge in all cases. There is no difference between a tribunal, civil or criminal case,' he said.

'If we changed the insider dealing ordinance from a tribunal to a criminal case, a lot more evidence would be needed to prove the case and it would need many years to complete a case.' 'The Government will continue to use the tribunal to investigate insider dealing cases.'