Barrister broke vow on identity of protected witness, court told

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, 12:00am

Veteran barrister Kevin Egan conveyed to journalists the identity of a woman on the ICAC's Witness Protection Programme on the same day he pledged to a judge he would keep the information confidential, the District Court heard yesterday.

Egan and solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung have been accused of launching a campaign involving the court and press to pressure the Independent Commission Against Corruption into releasing the woman, who was a potential witness against their client.

Martin Wilson QC said in his opening statement yesterday that the barrister told Magdalen Chow Yin-ling, a South China Morning Post reporter, to look up the Witness Protection Ordinance when she asked him the meaning of 'protective custody' in connection with a closed-door hearing on his client's application for a writ of habeas corpus on July 15, 2004.

'[Mr Egan] went so far as to tell her the chapter number. He also mentioned the Criminal Procedure Ordinance,' he said. The barrister had initially told reporters that he could not say anything about the application.

The prosecutor said Egan repeated the same piece of information to journalists who approached him in the afternoon that day. In addition, the barrister identified to them Eric Yang Yan-tak, who had been outside the court all afternoon, as being in charge of the ICAC investigator in charge of the Witness Protection Programme (WPP). He also mentioned to the group about a safe house and change of name and identity, Mr Wilson said.

Earlier that day, the barrister had given an undertaking to Mr Justice David Yam Yee-kwan after the latter ordered that nothing that transpired at the hearing should be revealed outside, particularly to the press, said the prosecutor.

In the hearing, the judge issued a writ of habeas corpus to Becky Wong Pui-see, a secretary of Semtech International Holdings who had been included on the WPP to help with the ICAC's probe into alleged corruption by the listed company's chairman, Derek Wong Chong-kwong. But the order for the writ was later discharged by another High Court judge.

Mr Wilson said Egan's disclosure of information to reporters was 'clearly intended to identify Becky Wong as being in the WPP'.

However, in a letter to then secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie, Egan said that it was the journalists who recognised Mr Yang as being connected with the WPP.

The prosecution case was that on the surface, Egan was acting for Mandy Chui Man-si, lover of Derek Wong and a director of Semtech, whom Mr Wilson said had lied to court that she was concerned about the ICAC's alleged detention of her 'friend' Becky Wong and applied for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Becky Wong. The prosecutor said the barrister was in reality conspiring with Andrew Lam, solicitor for Derek Wong in the corruption case, to gain access to the secretary, whom they feared could be a potential witness against the Semtech chairman.

Massie & Clement, the solicitors firm for Chui, was used as a 'cordon sanitaire' to make it appear that Derek Wong and Lam were unconnected to the habeas corpus application.

Egan, 58, Lam, 53, Derek Wong, and Chui, 25, have denied a joint charge of perverting the course of public justice. The two lawyers, accused of using the press to pressure the ICAC into releasing Becky Wong, also face a joint charge of conspiracy to disclose information to journalists about the identity of the secretary. Egan also faces two alternative counts of disclosing information to Ms Chow.

The prosecutor also said that Derek Wong rewarded Chui, who also faces a charge of perjury, with a $270,000 Mercedes-Benz on July 21, 2004, for her loyalty.

Graham Harris, counsel for Lam, yesterday expressed concern that the prosecution had not fully disclosed materials of the case to the defence, including that on the movements of Becky Wong and communication between ICAC officers. The hearing continues today before District Court chief judge Barnabas Fung Wah.