Widow spared jail over CSSA fraud
A widow who was convicted of 'technically' cheating the Social Welfare Department out of HK$300,000 by failing to declare HK$810,000 she was holding for her mother-in-law received an 18-month suspended jail sentence yesterday.
Sparing Lam Fung-hoi, 48, an immediate prison term, District Court Judge Eddie Yip Chor-man again criticised the department for suspending all benefits to her family - including disability allowances for her mentally disabled husband and daughter - during an investigation.
Yip had a sharp exchange with prosecutor Robert Lee Kan-yung when he told the court the benefits had been cut at Lam's request.
The judge also called into question a department policy of negotiating a repayment plan with suspected benefit cheats before they were convicted, meaning they could incriminate themselves.
Lam had been convicted of dishonestly obtaining Comprehensive Social Security Assistance between 2002 and 2005. Her mentally disabled husband died in April this year, leaving a son and two daughters, one of them moderately mentally disabled.
The prosecution said HK$410,000 in suspended disability allowances had since been paid in a lump sum and it would not seek a court order for the HK$300,000. The court heard that Lam's allowances were suspended between April 2008 and December 2009. She was arrested in June 2009.
Lee, senior assistant director of public prosecutions, said that in April 2008 Lam told a welfare officer she did not want the benefits as she wanted to be independent. When she changed her mind in January 2009, she was given the disability benefits in a lump sum.
But Yip said: 'If her family had starved to death, it would be useless for you to give them a plaque and HK$1 million ... this is a matter of humanity and not a financial matter.' Suspending the term for three years, the judge said this was warranted by the 'special features' of the case.