Sex-shame HK tycoon in court row

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 12:00am

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A Hong Kong billionaire is at the centre of a legal storm in Canada after admitting his role in a sordid drama involving a prostitute, cocaine and illegal guns.

David Ho Ting-kwok, 60 (pictured), was arrested after the shivering vice girl was found in only her bra and panties and with a broken ankle after being kept in the tycoon's palatial mansion in an exclusive enclave in Vancouver.

Ho is a prominent member of Vancouver's Chinese business community, whose grandfather founded the Hong Kong Tobacco Company.

His brother, tycoon Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, is the chairman of Hong Kong Tobacco and the Sing Tao News Corporation.

On Thursday, Ho pleaded guilty to the unlawful confinement of the prostitute at his home as well as possession of a loaded, unregistered semi-automatic pistol, one of more than a dozen guns police found in the multimillion-dollar mansion.

A slew of other charges, including drug charges related to 13 grams of cocaine that police also found in the home, were dropped as part of Ho's plea deal in the Vancouver court.

Ho also pleaded guilty to breaching his bail, having been found with an illegal switchblade knife on a trip through airport security a year ago.

He was sentenced to one year of probation on charges of illegal confinement, illegal possession of an unregistered firearm and breaching his bail conditions.

He was also told to do 45 hours of community service, fined C$5,000 (HK$38,800) and ordered to attend counselling for substance abuse.

The leniency of the sentence has been criticised, with advocacy group BC Civil Liberties questioning whether Ho's donations to the Vancouver Police Foundation influenced the plea deal. Ho also served on the city's Police Board.

Referring to the young prostitute's ordeal, David Eby, of BC Civil Liberties, told CBC News: 'If you're confined and your ankle's broken and so on, and the sentence is probation, I think it's a very serious issue.'

Ho's lawyer, Len Doust, said outside the court that suggestions Ho had somehow paid off the woman to minimise the case were untrue. He pointed out that the woman had brought a civil suit against his client.

It was a stunning fall from grace for Ho, who was one of the brightest lights in Vancouver's Chinese community. A father of three adult children, he relocated his family from Hong Kong in 1984, but divorced his wife Rita Fung - daughter of Fung King-hey, co-founder of the Sun Hung Kai property group - in 1995.

He is a former Vancouver Businessman of the Year, whose commercial interests included property development, luxury car dealerships, the prestigious University Golf Club and a beverage firm that he sold to Pepsi for C$300 million.

He was the founder of Harmony Airlines, a Vancouver-based short-haul operation which shut down in 2007. Ho is also the honorary consul for the Seychelles.

Three years ago, according to police, Ho visited the Lavalife online chat room and arranged a date with a young prostitute. He picked her up late at night in the Vancouver satellite city of Delta and took her to a McDonald's restaurant for a meal.

Then he returned with her to his mansion in Shaughnessy, Vancouver, surrounded by a moat, tall fir trees and a steel fence. There the pair had sex, smoked cocaine together and indulged in 'role playing'.

But when the woman, aged in her 20s, tried to leave, Ho refused to let her out of the bedroom and the pair grappled. According to The Vancouver Sun, prosecutor Elliot Poll said Ho 'was pushing her and confining her but didn't strike her'.

The woman phoned her father for help, who heard his daughter yelling 'let me out', and a man's voice in the background.

Eventually, the woman managed to escape Ho's clutches by wriggling out of her shirt. She fell down a flight of stairs as Ho continued to try to grab her and ran to the garage and locked herself in Ho's car.

But the businessman turned up with the keys. Ho's lawyer, Len Doust, said that Ho wanted to drive her home and was trying to 'settle her down'. The lawyer said Ho was concerned that she would try to go home in her near-naked state on what was a freezing night.

In a statement of facts, Ho admitted using unreasonable force to restrain her. Eventually, the woman climbed the 2.5-metre fence surrounding the home, smashing her foot as she jumped.

She hobbled to a neighbouring property in Hudson Street, Shaughnessy, where police were called before dawn.

Ho tried to apologise to the woman, who was named in court only by her initials 'KR', on Thursday but she wasn't present at the hearing.

Regarding the 13 guns that police found at the mansion, including the unregistered 9mm Glock pistol in Ho's bedside drawer, his lawyer said Ho used the weapons for self-protection. 'This is not a gangster carrying a gun in a secreted manner,' Doust said. He also explained that the switchblade found before Ho's flight to China last February was mistakenly left in his carry-on bag.

In a 2009 interview with The Province newspaper, Ho said that he was an insomniac who would drive around picking up drug-addicted prostitutes to 'save' them. 'I'm addicted to helping them,' he said.

Ho, who used to park a fake movie-set police car in his driveway to deter criminals, no longer lives at the Hudson Street mansion, which was put on the market in 2009 for more than C$5 million.