Payout hearing reduced to farce

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am

A pre-trial hearing for a Hong Kong businessman's compensation claim descended into farce in Guangdong's highest court yesterday when representatives of the defendant - a Zhongshan court - did not turn up and the judge argued in its stead.

Plaintiff Chan Ho-wai and his lawyer, Lin Wencai, said they were disappointed that the Zhongshan Intermediate People's Court did not send anyone to attend the hearing.

Mr Chan has accused several senior Zhongshan court officials of failing to carry out a court order and illegally holding on to more than 29 hectares of land that belonged to him. He is demanding 110 million yuan in compensation, believed to be one of the biggest damages claims filed against a government department in Guangdong.

'It's quite ridiculous that today's hearing became a debate between us and the presiding judge, Zheng Lirong,' Mr Lin said. 'It's also very strange that the judge was arguing for the Zhongshan court's side.'

The judge said she told the defendant to attend the hearing, adding: 'They came here on [Tuesday] to discuss the case with me.'

Mr Lin said that after the no-show, he requested another hearing but the judge would not promise anything. Mr Chan vowed to appeal to the Supreme People's Court for compensation and the return of his land.

In 1993, he and his Shanghai business partner bought 29.5 hectares in Zhongshan for development, but an internal dispute resulted in the partners going to court in 1994 to contest ownership of the land.

The Zhongshan court awarded the land-development rights to the Shanghai partner in October 1998, but the following month the two sides signed a deal in which the partner forfeited rights to the land.

Mr Chan believes that as the owner, the land rights should have gone to him when the original court order expired. But the Zhongshan court did not recognise the partners' agreement and confiscated the land in 2002. Village officials then sold 7.3 hectares to another developer.

Mr Chan is demanding 110 million yuan for the 7.3 hectares and wants the Zhongshan court to hand over the remaining 22.2 hectares.