Rent scam leads to community service for disgraced academic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2007, 12:00am

Updated at 7.13pm:
The District Court on Wednesday ordered a former top music academic to perform 200 hours of community service for cheating the Chinese University out of a HK$1.9 million tenancy allowance between 1990 and 1998.

Deputy Judge Garry Tallentire on Wednesday said former associate dean of the Chinese University?s arts faculty Chan Wing-wah fell from grace because of his ?unnecessary act of greed?.

Chan, 52, who had resigned from the institute early last month, had cheated the university into paying HK$1.9 million between 1990 and 1998 as an allowance for a flat on Temple Road in Tin Hau, North Point.

The lease breached the condition that neither his spouse nor any relatives should have a financial interest in any flat he rented under the private tenancy allowance scheme. Chan?s then-wife Jean Zee Pui-man told his sister-in-law to run a company which owned the North Point flat.

The court heard evidence that Chan and Ms Zee had received proceeds through their bank accounts from sales of the flat in September 1998.

Denying knowledge of the tenancy situation, Chan had pleaded not guilty before the District Court on October 18 to two charges of using documents ? an application for a private tenancy allowance filed in 1990 and a written statement containing information about the lease of the property submitted in 1998 ? with intent to deceive.

The court on Wednesday heard that a probation officer had recommended in the community service report a sentence within a range of 160 to 200 hours of community service for Chan, who had shown remorse about committing the offences.

In Wednesday?s sentencing, Judge Tallentire held that there were exceptional circumstances in Chan?s case as he found evidence suggesting the main architect of the fraud scheme could have been Ms Zee, who had refused to assist the defence in supplying any details regarding their financial situation in the offence period.

The judge also took into account that Chan had made huge contributions to the community, especially in the local development of culture and music.

The judge said the university did not suffer any actual loss as a full restitution had been made to the university in May 1999, before Chan was charged.

The court heard earlier that Chan had repaid the university HK$1.88 million, plus interest, in 1999 after his sister-in-law was interviewed by police in relation to this offence. Chan had then received a letter from the university?s solicitor shortly after, stating that no criminal offence was detected.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption took over the investigation in 2005, and Chan was arrested for the offence.

Judge Tallentire found Chan guilty of the charges on November 27 last year. The judge found he was fully aware of who owned the flat he rented.

Speaking outside the courtroom on Wednesday, Chan said ?Though I have already resigned from the university, my passion for music work has not diminished.?

Declining to comment on Chan?s case, a Chinese University spokesman on Wednesday said the university had stopped receiving new applications for the private tenancy allowance after 1998 as a new housing subsidy scheme had been introduced. She said the old scheme, which Chan had fraudulently cheated, had been an ?honest system? that required applicants? declaration of any personal interest in a flat.

In December 2004, former professor Paul Chan Wing-yiu was jailed for four months for cheating the Chinese University out of HK$1.5 million in rental allowances.

Also in 2004, Edith Lau Ming-chu, a former senior professor at the community and family medicine department of the university, was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, for cheating the university out of HK$861,340 in housing allowances.

Of those involved in similar cases, Chan Wing-wah held the highest position in the university.