Guilty plea reversed in Tamar case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2007, 12:00am

A senior technician who earlier admitted using a computer improperly to send more than 78,000 electronic comments supporting one of the four bids for the Tamar government headquarters project was allowed to change his plea yesterday.

Magistrate Garry Tallentire, in Eastern Court, said he was reluctant to exercise his discretion but allowed Cheng Wai-pui, 41, to make the switch because he should not be denied a fair trial.

Cheng, who worked for the China State-Leighton-Yau Lee joint venture, claimed he was not 'advised properly' by a legal aid lawyer in a plea bargain when he pleaded guilty on September 26 to six charges of obtaining access to a computer with dishonest intent.

He now faces trial on 14 charges, eight of which had been left on file after his earlier plea, with the prosecution reserving the right to proceed with them.

Cheng, who is on bail, had been due for sentencing yesterday before his change of plea. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for December 4.

Mr Tallentire said legal aid lawyers faced a heavy workload and might have limited time with each defendant. But Cheng could now be represented by a private lawyer.

The charges arose from the public exhibition of the four competing designs for the Tamar project.

The court has heard that 78,328 comments were received via the internet during the two-month display from March 28, of which 72,948 rated Leighton's design 'excellent'. The 'excellent' comment was sent from two of the company's IP addresses on 21 occasions.

Applying for the plea reversal, lawyer Vitus Leung Wing-hang argued that Cheng had not been dishonest or intended to deceive, as the offences implied.

He had been testing software he had designed on the exhibition website, which did not restrict the same sender from submitting comments more than once or on behalf of a group of people.

But prosecutor Hayson Tse Ka-shu said Cheng had not merely duplicated entries but falsely misrepresented himself as different senders to submit the comments.