Macau cancels doctors' trip to assess health of bribery defendant Joseph Lau
Trial of Joseph Lau in disarray after health check cancelled; judge still on sick leave
A plan to send Macau doctors to Hong Kong to check on the health of billionaire tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung in the wake of his bribery trial no-show has been scuppered.
Officials in Macau have ruled that the move is outside their jurisdiction.
It's the latest twist in the stop-start HK$20 million trial of Chinese Estates Holdings chairman Lau and fellow Hong Kong tycoon Steven Lo Kit-shing.
In a further twist, the judge originally presiding over the trial, Alice Costa, who withdrew on health grounds seven months ago, looks unlikely to return to the bench, as she remains "sick".
The effective removal from the case of Costa - who is still in Macau - comes despite the fact that, under its Portuguese-influenced legal system, it is very difficult to change judges once they have taken charge of a trial.
"People are joking that there seems to be some sort of virus in judicial system," said a well- placed legal source.
The source also said health officials in Macau were considering approaching the Hong Kong authorities to help check on Lau's health, that but no move had been made so far.
"The health department has told the court that they cannot send medics to Hong Kong as it is outside the legal jurisdiction to do so,'' he said.
The high-profile trial, which is linked to a multibillion-dollar property development over-looking Macau's Cotai Strip, comes at a politically sensitive time for the city as it prepares for Legislative Assembly elections in September and the endorsement early next year of a second term for Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on.
Lau and Lo - who is chairman of BMA Investment and convenor of South China, Hong Kong's most successful soccer team - are accused of offering a HK$20 million bribe to Macau's former public works chief, Ao Man-long, in 2005. Ao was jailed for 29 years in May last year for corruption. Both men deny the charges.
Last week Lau reacted angrily to the publication by the Apple Daily newspaper of details of his personal medical history.
A spokesman for the Macau judiciary said it could not disclose personal data on Judge Costa. Calls to her mobile phone were not returned.