Witness coaching claim 'astonishing'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2006, 12:00am

Prosecutor rejects allegation in trial over ICAC probe

The defence lawyer in the trial of four suspects in a perversion-of-justice case yesterday raised concerns that the prosecution had coached anti-graft officers on how to give evidence in the trial.

This suggestion, by Graham Harris, lawyer for solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung, was rejected by a prosecutor, who dismissed it as an 'astonishing' allegation of impropriety against the prosecution and the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Mr Harris raised his concerns after pointing out that Tony Lo Fat-yiu, the commission's chief arms-training officer, had turned immediately to the second page of a note handed to him by a court clerk during cross-examination yesterday.

The prosecution told the court that the document had been prepared for a meeting of top-ranking officers - including Mr Lo - on July 12, 2004, to discuss whether to include a secretary of a listed company in the witness protection programme. The defence has argued that the meeting was retrospectively reconstructed.

'I watched you very carefully,' Mr Harris told Mr Lo. 'Were you anticipating the question about justification [for the witness to be included on the programme]?'

The officer denied this, but admitted he had looked at a copy of the briefing note on Monday and that, after the trial began, he had also read computer records of his movements within the ICAC building in July 2004 - materials on which the defence has relied heavily to challenge ICAC witnesses.

Mr Lo said the documents were given to him by colleagues, but could not recall when these were passed to him or by whom.

Mr Harris then asked the prosecution to disclose the date and the identity of officers who passed the documents to Mr Lo.

'The point we want to explore is the extent to which, if at all, this witness may have been alerted improperly prior to his coming to this court to give evidence,' he told Chief District Court Judge Barnabas Fung Wah.

Prosecutor Martin Wilson QC said Mr Harris' use of the word 'improperly' suggested that there was in some way impropriety on the part of the prosecution or the ICAC.

'That, I must say, was an astonishing suggestion,' he said. He said that giving the document to the officers was a matter of common sense and intended to save time.

The defence lawyer said he wanted to distinguish between saving court time and coaching, tipping off witnesses in advance, or alerting them on the defence's line of questioning.

Lam, barrister Kevin Egan, Semtech International Holdings chairman Derek Wong Chong-kwong, and his lover Mandy Chui Pui-si, have denied a joint count of perverting the course of justice by pressuring the ICAC into releasing secretary Becky Wong Pui-see, a potential witness against Derek Wong.

The two lawyers also denied charges in relation to disclosing Ms Wong's identity to the press. Chui also faces a count of perjury.