Blaming Egan easy way out, court told

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am

The solicitor for the South China Morning Post advised one of its reporters to 'blame it all on someone else' when the journalist was asked to assist an ICAC investigation into an alleged leak of the identity of a witness protection programme participant to the press, a court heard yesterday.

John McNamara, counsel for barrister Kevin Egan, urged Chief District Judge Barnabas Fung Wah against relying on the testimony of Magdalen Chow Yin-ling, the Post's former chief court reporter.

He argued that Kevin Bowers, then solicitor acting for the newspaper, told her to co-operate with the anti-graft body with the sole aim of getting the newspaper away from trouble.

Egan, 59, and solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung, 54, deny a joint charge of conspiracy to disclose the identity of a secretary of Semtech International Holdings, Becky Wong Pui-see, as a member of the witness protection programme in July 2004. Egan also pleads not guilty to two alternative counts of attempting to disclose the information to Ms Chow, who was granted immunity as a prosecution witness in the case.

'Bowers purported to advise her, although he was plainly not interested at all in her welfare, simply that of his real client - which was the SCMP,' said Mr McNamara in his closing submission.

'Had she received independent advice, she would no doubt have been advised to remain silent. However, on Bowers' advice, a group deal was done, and she was no doubt instructed to comply: 'You tell the ICAC where you got the information - in other words, blame someone else - give evidence to that effect and you, the editor, anyone else at the paper and the company itself would not be prosecuted',' the counsel said.

'She had to blame someone. It was easy to blame Mr Egan,' he said, adding that the immunity the ICAC granted to Ms Chow and Post editorial staff was 'absolutely extraordinary' and unprecedented. The two lawyers and former Semtech chairman Derek Wong Chong-kwong, 38, and his lover Mandy Chui Man-si, 26, are accused of launching a campaign involving the media and the court to try to pressure the ICAC into releasing Becky Wong, a potential witness against Derek Wong in an investigation on alleged market manipulation. The four defendants deny a joint count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Ms Chow was described by prosecutor Martin Wilson QC as an 'unshaken and impressive' witness in his closing submission.

The judge will give his verdict in the District Court on June 12.