Reporter denies she used barrister as a scapegoat, court hears

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2006, 12:00am

A former South China Morning Post reporter told a court yesterday that barrister Kevin Egan did not directly disclose to her the identity of a woman on the ICAC's witness protection programme. But the journalist argued it was the 'only reasonable and logical inference' she could draw from what he had told her in two conversations.

Magdalen Chow Yin-ling, who has been granted immunity against prosecution, denied using Egan as a scapegoat after realising she 'might have done something wrong' in two of her articles on a habeas corpus application for Becky Wong Pui-see, secretary of listed company Semtech International Holdings. Both articles included the line 'a legal source said Ms Wong was in the ICAC's witness protection programme'.

John McNamara, for Egan, asked in his cross-examination of Ms Chow why the line in question appeared in her article published on July 16, 2004, but not her original, unedited version. She said she called a duty editor after filing her story from court to add the line 'a legal source said it was believed Ms Wong was in the ICAC's witness protection programme'. That was the 'only reasonable and logical inference' she could draw from her two conversations with Egan.

'I believe the other reporters' understanding was also the same,' she said, adding the words 'it was believed' were omitted in the published version.

Ms Chow agreed that Egan had never said to her 'word for word' that Ms Wong was, or that it was believed she was on the witness protection programme.

She recalled the barrister mentioned the words 'witness protection programme' and pointed out that Eric Yang Yan-tak, senior ICAC officer who was outside the court, was in charge of the programme.

He also told her to look up the Witness Protection Ordinance when she asked him to define 'protective custody'.

Egan, 58, and solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung, 53, have denied a joint charge of conspiracy to disclose information to journalists about the identity of Ms Wong. Egan also pleads not guilty to two alternative counts of disclosing the information to Ms Chow.

The two lawyers, Semtech chairman Derek Wong Chong-kwong, 37, and his lover Mandy Chui Man-si, 25, have denied a joint charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. They are accused of trying to pressure the ICAC into releasing Ms Wong, a potential witness in a market manipulation case against Derek Wong.

Chui has also denied a charge of perjury.

Mr McNamara suggested to the witness that her two articles were based on 'a conglomeration of information you were given by all your sources'. But she disagreed.

In her first statement on July 24, 2004, Ms Chow said that on July 15 she approached Egan 'on a one-to-one basis' when he came out of court for a cigarette.

'Mr Egan doesn't smoke,' Mr McNamara said. He asked if Ms Chow knew that Kevin Bowers, then lawyer for the South China Morning Post who accompanied her to the ICAC, gave a draft statement extending immunity to all editorial staff. Ms Chow said she was only taking Mr Bowers' advice to give statements to protect the newspaper and staff.

'To do that, you had to blame someone. Why not Kevin Egan?' the counsel asked. She disagreed.

The hearing continues in the District Court today.