Chinese University academic criticised for agreeing to represent alleged smuggling boss

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2001, 12:00am

The Chinese University academic hired by alleged mainland smuggling kingpin Lai Changxing to provide legal advice has been criticised for taking an 'immoral' job.

The controversy surrounding associate professor Stephen Tang Lung-wai comes as university chiefs decide if the job amounts to unauthorised 'outside practice' and could bring the institution into disrepute.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, chairman of the Department of Sociology in which Dr Tang has been working for 24 years, started investigating the case after reading a report in Saturday's South China Morning Post that Dr Tang, also a qualified barrister, was being hired by Lai.

Dr Tang's work with Lai has also raised concerns about a conflict of interest as he sits as the Immigration Tribunal's adjudicator. But the Immigration Department has dismissed the fears, saying Lai's case would probably be handled by two other tribunals.

According to the university's staff handbook, employees are not allowed to take up an outside practice without approval.

Dr Tang attained his barrister's qualifications in 1996 and the university said it was informed about them. However, a university spokesman said Dr Tang had not told them that he was representing Lai and was flying to meet him in Vancouver when he was on leave last week.

Professor Lau said: 'An outside practice should be beneficial to the development of his profession, the university and society. It should not damage the reputation of the university nor should it affect the time he should have spent in the university.'

Professor Lau said Dr Tang's appointment to represent Lai had sparked controversy with some people believing his work for the alleged smuggling kingpin was immoral.

'Personally, I think it's not an issue of morality as everyone should be presumed innocent before being found guilty,' Professor Lau said. 'Some people in the community and within the university believe the reported practice is immoral.'

He said Dr Tang had agreed to drop his work in the insurance business about five years ago after the university management considered it would affect the image of the university.

Brian Littlewood, Lai's other lawyer, said: 'We think he's the right person given the fairly short notice.' He said everyone should be entitled to legal advice and representation, but declined to comment on the controversy surrounding Dr Tang.

Mr Littlewood was appointed by Lai to prepare for possible legal battles against the SAR Government's attempt to invalidate his SAR identity card and passport which were said to be fraudulently obtained.

The chairman of the Chinese University teachers' association's executive committee, Professor Leung Jin-pang, said it would be better look at the relevance of Dr Tang's legal practice to his university position than to make a judgment on the morality question.

He said Dr Tang's case might be discussed at next month's association meeting and he might meet university management if necessary.