Egan walks free from court as leak-case conviction overturned

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 February, 2009, 12:00am

Prominent barrister Kevin Egan walked free from court yesterday after his conviction in a witness tampering case was overturned.

The Court of Appeal said the evidence against Mr Egan, 62, had not proved that he was guilty of revealing a protected witness's identity to a South China Morning Post reporter more than four years ago. His conviction was based almost entirely on the reporter's testimony, which the court yesterday described as 'inconsistent'.

Mr Egan, who wore a tie emblazoned with the words 'not guilty', declined to comment on the judgment. When asked how he felt about his acquittal, he said: 'Better.'

The barrister, the first person convicted of breaking the city's witness protection law, had been sentenced to 21/2 years' prison. He was on bail pending the ruling.

The court upheld an obstruction of justice and witness tampering conviction for solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung, 57, who had been handed a four-year sentence.

Three judges - Mr Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching and Mr Justice Alan Wright - also rejected appeals by fugitive businessman Derek Wong Chong-kwong, 41, and his ex-lover Mandy Chui Man-si, 29, on perjury and witness tampering charges. Wong had been sentenced in absentia to three years' imprisonment and Chui to 21/2 years in jail. She also received a concurrent one-year term for perjury.

Lam, who appeared stunned by the decision, almost collapsed as he was led away by court security guards. Mr Justice Ma declined to continue Lam's bail until he could petition the Court of Final Appeal for a hearing. Chui's bail was also revoked.

The ruling came eight months after lawyers for Egan, Lam and Chui argued that the trial judge who convicted them had made numerous legal errors. Wong was unrepresented at the appeal hearings.

All four had been accused of conspiring in July 2004 to prevent Wong's secretary from testifying against her former boss, who faced allegations that he tried to manipulate the share price of his Semtech International Holdings.

In a majority 2-1 decision, the appeal judges said there was ample evidence that Lam, who was Wong's lawyer, had masterminded a plan to stop the secretary from co-operating with anti-graft investigators.

Lam argued that he had only tried to determine if the woman was held against her will by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

'The [trial] judge's conclusion that Lam was 'calling the shots behind the scenes' was right on the mark,' the ruling said. 'The evidence clearly demonstrates that at no stage did [the witness] ... request any assistance from anyone regarding her release.'

The court also dismissed any suggestion that lawyers acting in good faith should worry about Lam's conviction.