Pawnshop refuses to share losses in theft

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am

When brokers at a pawnshop advanced HK$39,500 for two gold necklaces from a man last year, they had no idea these were stolen items from a jewellery shop.

Now that criminal proceedings in the case have been completed, the normal practice is for the pawnshop and the business that originally owned the necklaces to split the loss.

But Yau On Pawn Shop objects to this. The Tai Po store said jewellery chain Chow Sang Sang failed to report the theft to police in time, making it impossible to tell the necklaces were stolen.

While Chow Sang Sang Jewellery wants Yau On to share half the loss, pawnshop manager Hung Shui-wang wants the full amount of the loan back. He took the matter to court this month to contest what he called an unfair sharing of responsibility.

Chow Sang Sang said it had taken every security and stock-taking measure and reported the loss to the police as soon as it could. The jewellery chain said Yau On should share part of the responsibility because it did not check the source of the goods before accepting them.

A former worker a the jewellery shop has been jailed for three months over the theft.

The two necklaces in question were pawned on June 5 and 19 last year, Hung said. But Chow Sang Sang did not notice the items were missing until 15 days after the first one was pawned, despite its twice-daily stock checks.

Because of the delay, Hung said, he had no way of knowing from the police's missing properties list that the necklaces were stolen goods.

He said he takes every step to verify if goods presented for pawning were stolen items and should not be made to take any blame.

He writes down the identity card number of the person who pawned items, checks a police list of stolen goods and tells the police about the pawned goods he deals with on a daily basis, he said.

Hung said that if Chow Sang Sang had discovered the loss earlier and reported the matter immediately, the police would have put the items on the list. Then Yau On would not have given the loan.

He said the jewellery shop was solely responsible for the loss because it delayed reporting the theft. He asked the court to rule that the jeweller had to pay the full amount to reclaim the necklaces, now in the police's possession.

'We followed every procedure in handling the pawned goods. Alternatively, Chow Sang Sang was late in discovering the [disappearance] of its items,' Hung said. 'There are times when the loss of the goods is totally the fault of the original owners and we have no way of knowing they are stolen. In this case, it's all about problematic internal management at Chow Sang Sang.'

In Hong Kong, it is normal practice for pawnbrokers to share half the losses over stolen goods. Hung said he took the matter to court because his case could set an example showing pawnbrokers did not have to bear unfair responsibility.

Hung said he had spent HK$100,000 bringing the case to court. 'I want this case to set a precedent so pawnbrokers will not have to assume responsibility for cases where they have no blame. The money is only a secondary issue. The core issue is whether this arrangement is fair in this case.'