Carson Yeung, owner of the English soccer club Birmingham City, has been given four more months to prepare his defence on money laundering charges involving HK$700 million.
His application for an adjournment was allowed, on Wednesday, when Judge Douglas Yau Tak-hong ruled that Yeung was not simply trying to delay the trial. The trial, involving five money laundering charges, was due to start on Wednesday.
“On the balance of probabilities and interest of fairness and justice, I found that I should grant the application for adjournment,” Yau said.
Yeung based his application on the fact that he had only recently secured the funds to pay his legal fees. All his assets were frozen by an injunction order imposed by the court soon after his arrest in June last year.
Yeung had not yet instructed a barrister defending him in the trial, the court was told.
When the prosecution opposed his application for adjournment, Joseph Tse SC, for Yeung, called it “hallmarks of oppressive prosecution”. If extra time was not allowed, Yeung would be forced to defend himself without legal assistance, he said.
Yeung’s lawyer said the legal team needed more time to gather evidence to show that even though Yeung began his career as a humble hairdresser, he had become a wealthy and successful businessman well before 2001 – the year the alleged offences began.
The trial was adjourned to April 29. The parties will return to court for a pre-trial hearing on March 25. The prosecution asked for that hearing on the grounds that they did not want another “late application” for adjournment.
Granting the adjournment, Yau said he believed Yeung wanted to know as soon as possible whether he would be freed or sent to jail, so that he could move on with his life.
“There is not much you can do living in a state of limbo,” Yau said. “I do not agree that the defendant had been trying to delay the trial.”
The prosecution had suggested that Yeung was simply using delaying tactics. John Reading SC, for the prosecution, pointed out that although Yeung said he had no funds to pay legal fees, he had engaged no fewer than five senior counsel.
Yet Tse, Yeung’s lawyer, told the court: “The applicant [Yeung] wants a trial. He doesn’t want to delay a trial. There is simply no benefit in avoiding or delaying a trial. It will simply cast uncertainty over his head.”
“We just want a fair trial,” Tse said.
The judge noted that it was a complicated money laundering case. If Yeung defended himself in person rather than using a lawyer, time would be wasted in explaining court procedures to him.
Yeung’s former solicitors had depleted Yeung’s funds by pursuing the wrong course in asking for the release of some money for litigation, the judge said.
“This was not the defendant’s fault. He should not be punished for it,” the judge said.
The court also heard that the Department of Justice had only recently changed the leading prosecutor in the case, after it came to light that the prosecutor gave legal advice to Yeung in a separate criminal case in 2003.
The court heard that Michael Blanchflower SC, who had been engaged by the prosecution for more than a year to prepare the case, held a long meeting with Yeung in 2003 – in relation to a criminal case that involved the same securities accounts now in question.
Yeung was acquitted in that case.
Blanchflower only gave Yeung legal advice, and he did not represent him in that trial.
Yeung was released on bail of HK$7 million cash and another HK$7 million in surety.