Judge denies ICAC access to seized documents

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 2006, 12:00am

Law firm given time to challenge search warrant

A judge yesterday denied graft-busters access to legal material seized under a search warrant while the owners of the material seek to have the warrant quashed.

But Mr Justice Michael Hartmann told a barrister acting for the applicants that he had yet to be convinced he had the power to rescind the warrant.

He ordered the material, seized in a raid on the shared office of RMBSA Corporate Services and law firm Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura, Sayoc & De Los Angeles, to remain sealed in the meantime.

The two companies are seeking a judicial review of the granting of the warrant by Magistrate Josiah Lam Wai-kuen on April 7. They want the warrant quashed and the search declared unlawful.

Barrister Dennis Kwok told the Court of First Instance yesterday that the Independent Commission Against Corruption had not disclosed to the magistrate the 'crucial fact' that the premises to be searched was a law office.

The law firm is claiming legal privilege in relation to all documents and material seized in the raid.

In delivering yesterday's ruling, Mr Justice Hartmann gave the applicants the green light to pursue their claims with a condition Mr Kwok convinces him that the court has jurisdiction to quash a search warrant.

'I have the concern that the court may not have the right to entertain an application for quashing a search warrant issued,' the judge said.

Mr Kwok will have to make a further submission within 10 days.

The judge also ordered that the material seized under the warrant should not be surrendered to any other authority outside Hong Kong, and should be kept sealed before the court had dealt with the judicial claim.

The material was seized in a 3?-hour search of the office in the Far East Finance Centre in Admiralty on April 12.

The anti-graft body applied for the warrant in response to a request made under authority from the Secretary for Justice of the Philippines.

The court heard yesterday that seven ICAC officers had conducted a search in the office, including files belonging to the lawyers and their clients that were unrelated to the subject matter of the search.

RMBSA Corporate Services was set up by the law firm to provide corporate secretarial services to its clients.