Hong Kong set to hand over Berlusconi-related evidence
Justice chief rushes to transfer documents to money-laundering trial in Italy after court throws out fresh attempt to prevent the move
Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung is rushing to transfer evidence to an ongoing trial in Italy, related to the country's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, after a Hong Kong court dismissed attempts to delay handing over the documents.
In a Court of First Instance ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Godfrey Lam Wan-ho rejected an application from two Hong Kong women and four Hong Kong companies for a judicial review of the justice secretary's order for documents seized from them to be sent to Italy.
The four companies are: Wiltshire Trading, Harmony Gold, CS Secretaries and Loong Po Management. In October 2011, a Milan court indicted several defendants, including the two women, Paddy Chan Mei-yiu and Katherine Hsu May-chun, for money laundering.
The ongoing case in a criminal court in Milan is related to misappropriation, tax fraud and money laundering.
The rejection of the application for a judicial review was sped up, the judgment said. "Since the criminal trial for which the documents are to be used is currently in progress in Milan, and there is a possibility that the evidentiary phase of those proceedings will end in July, the application has had to be dealt with urgently."
The decision paves the way for the documents to be sent to Italy, unless the applicants appeal.
A lawyer who declined to be named said: "If the applicants appeal again, it is likely their leave to appeal will be quickly rejected, given the urgency of the justice secretary in sending the documents to Italy and the repeated failure of previous appeals."
Berlusconi, who resigned as prime minister in November 2011, is on trial in Italy on charges ranging from sex with an under-age prostitute to misuse of office to cover up the affair.
In a trial in Milan in October, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison while his business partner, American producer Frank Agrama (also called Farouk Agrama), was sentenced to three years in prison for tax fraud.
Berlusconi is appealing against the tax fraud conviction and has yet to serve the jail sentence, media reports say.
From 1988 to 1999, Agrama conspired with Berlusconi and arranged the fictitious sale of broadcasting rights to dummy companies under Berlusconi's control at inflated prices, the Milan judgment said.
Some of the funds generated by these activities went into the bank accounts of Agrama's companies, including Wiltshire. Agrama also set up other companies, including Harmony Gold, to facilitate the laundering of the criminal proceeds, it said.
"[Wiltshire and Harmony Gold] were set up to defraud the US Inland Revenue of tax on the profits obtained through the buying and selling of products on behalf of the Berlusconi group," the judgment said.
Chan and Hsu are the shareholders and directors of Wiltshire and Harmony Gold, according to Hong Kong corporate records.
The 76-year-old Berlusconi, a media tycoon, has been involved in more than 20 court cases during a political career that has seen him serve three terms as prime minister. This year, Forbes magazine put his net worth at US$6.2 billion.