Businesswoman Solina Chau Hoi-shuen has sued a Hong Kong distributor of Beijing-based Caijing for defamation after the financial magazine accused her of offering a bribe to a former senior mainland official.
Chau, director of the Li Ka-shing Foundation, was said to have offered US$500,000 to the official - who has since been jailed for bribe-taking - over projects related to Cheung Kong (Holdings), another company owned by Li Ka-shing.
This was reported in two articles Caijing published in June 2010. Chau is asking for unspecified damages from SEEC Media Group, which sent magazine copies to some 180 subscribers in Hong Kong and overseas. In the case's first hearing yesterday, a retired mainland vice-minister of education and a former top official of a US university gave positive accounts of Chau's character and credentials.
Senior counsel Johnny Mok, for Chau, said his client had sent a letter to SEEC asking it to publish an apology and clarification, but the request was ignored.
She also requested an injunction to prevent SEEC from circulating the reports.
"It is really unfortunate that the reputation of such a person [Chau] was tarnished," Mok said.
"The very unfortunate matter could have been cured immediately, but it was not done."
A mainland court ruled in December that Beijing Caijing Magazine Limited was liable for defamation and was ordered to publish an apology, the Court of First Instance heard. It was unclear if Caijing apologised. It was accepted by Chau's camp and the SEEC that the articles contained defamatory statements.
SEEC's defence is that it distributed the articles innocently, as it did not verify the magazine's contents beforehand.
SEEC secretary Joseph Tseung Sheung-shun said he became aware of the legal action against Caijing only after a partner courier services firm had distributed the copies. He stressed that SEEC was a distributor, but not Caijing's publisher.
It was heard that a Hong Kong court could not order the publication of an apology as a remedy in a defamation suit. But any offer of an apology would be taken as a mitigating factor in deciding the damages amount.
Meanwhile, retired mainland official Wei Yu testified yesterday that Chau donated 70 million yuan (HK$86 million) to several charitable projects.
"[Chau] wasn't the one who donated the most money, but she gave me many ideas. She also emotionally [invested] in the project," Wei said.
Julia Hsiao, a consultant of the Li Ka Shing Foundation Shantou University and a retired assistant vice-chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, said Chau contributed to the reform of higher education in the southern mainland.
The trial continues today.