Lai See
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 7:47am

How to prosecute the Tang illegal basement case?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

We've been brooding over the charges that Henry Tang Ying-yen's wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, is due to face in respect of the illegal basement. She has been charged in connection with building works being carried out without the approval and consent of the Buildings Department, which carries a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment and a fine of HK$400,000. The second charge concerns knowingly "misrepresenting a material fact in documents presented to the authority", which could lead to three years in jail and a maximum fine of HK$1 million. These are statutory offences in that they are concerned with breaches of the building regulations.

However, discussion with legal experts suggests there was another option which the prosecution division could have pursued but decided against. Without wishing to dwell on the merits of the case, this option would have been to prosecute Kuo for conspiracy to defraud, for which a precedent was firmly established by the Court of Final Appeal in the case of Mo Yuk Ting in respect of events surrounding Shanghai Land in 2002.

Mo, her husband Chau Ching-ngai, and four others, lost their appeal after earlier being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud. This involved making false representations. "As a result of the false representations, stock exchange and the Securities and Futures Commission were prejudiced by being prevented from performing their public duties in relation to the listing rules and takeover codes," states a press release following the unsuccessful appeal in 2008.

So you get the picture. Information was given to the Buildings Department in the Kuo case resulting in the government official giving permission to go ahead and do something , when if he had known the truth, he would not have done so. An indictable offence of this nature is rather more serious than the statutory offences Kuo has been charged with and carries a jail sentence of up to 14 years. She must be relieved that the director of public prosecutions has opted not to go down that route.

British rule for Hong Kong again?

Lai See is not one for nostalgia. We do not, for example, yearn for a return to the days when the British ruled Hong Kong. So we have been intrigued by the poll that has been running on the South China Morning Post's website. The poll asked readers to vote yes or no to the question "Would Hong Kongers vote to return to a British overseas territory if given the option?"

The idea for the poll came from Twitter where somebody, noting that the Falkland Islands were being asked if they wanted to remain a British overseas territory, wondered how people in Hong Kong would react if asked the same question. By yesterday evening some 3,000 readers had taken part with 93 per cent voting yes and the rest no. But the poll went viral during the day rising from about 600 votes in the morning to more than five times that amount by the evening.

It's been all over Facebook and Twitter, and has been one of the SCMP's most popular polls. But what does it mean? Obviously it can't be viewed as a proxy for a referendum of Hong Kong people.

Frankly, Lai See is surprised. It is one thing not to embrace rule by the mainland but quite another to apparently desire to be ruled by the British. We'd always assumed that waving the colonial flag was more an expression of dissatisfaction by people in Hong Kong over what's been going in recent years with the high property prices, disenchantment with government officials, national education, milk powder shortages and the like. It would be interesting to see the outcome if a similar poll was conducted by a local Chinese newspaper.

Pork chop soup

Although outrage over poor air quality and other pollution is still ricocheting around the internet, it is good to see mainland netizens are still able to maintain a sense of humor. Hence today's picture of the "pigfish" which we found on the website Yfrog. Meanwhile, somebody published on a Weibo microblog an imaginary conversation between the residents of the mainland's two biggest cities. Beijinger: "We Beijingers are the most fortunate; we can open the window and have free cigarettes." Shanghainese: "That's nothing; we turn on our faucets and have pork chop soup!"

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

Share

 

Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive