Rent-scam money 'used for good causes'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2006, 12:00am

A district councillor convicted of fraudulently claiming office rent was 'generous and helpful' and had used the money on a 'worthy cause', Fanling Court was told yesterday.

Defence counsel Eric Kwok Tung-ming said North District councillor Li Kwok-fung did not commit the crime out of personal greed - instead, he used the money to fund and promote community welfare and activities for the elderly and students.

Mr Kwok also said Li had dug deep into his own pocket after he became chairman of North District Council and Fanling District Rural Committee in 1999.

The committee was constantly under a tight budget and Li claimed the rent to subsidise some expenses, the court was told.

Li, 53, admitted he had instructed two of his assistants to prepare 29 bogus receipts between January 2000 and May 2002 to show he had rented an office. He was reimbursed $129,027. Li has since repaid the government.

'No doubt it is a serious offence. But the seriousness is diminished by the fact that Li had not pocketed the money. Instead, he spent it on a worthy cause,' Mr Kwok said.

In mitigation, eight letters from more than 100 supporters - among them Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat and lawmaker Cheung Hok-ming - were read in court.

Li's co-defendant, Tang Kun-nin, a former North District councillor, who shared the rent, also pleaded guilty to a fraud charge. He admitted making false representations in claiming $30,000 in office rent between 2001 and 2002.

Armand Souyave, for Tang, said his client did not pocket the money but spent most of it operating his ward office and serving the community. Tang had also repaid the money to the government.

Tang agreed to Li's offer to share the rent out of stupidity because Tang could have claimed the amount legitimately, Mr Souyave said. Fanling Magistrate William Ng Sing-wai reserved sentencing and extended their bail until June 12 pending background and community service reports.