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  • Sep 20, 2014
  • Updated: 12:12pm
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Hong Kong taxi driver gets 10 weeks in jail for driving off with passengers' luggage

Man who threw passengers' bags into drain after disagreement over fare will spend 10 weeks behind bars as warning to other cabbies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2013, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 8:51am
 

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A taxi driver was yesterday sentenced to 10 weeks in jail for throwing his passengers' luggage into a drain after a dispute over the fare last month.

Fung Kim-wai, 34, had earlier pleaded guilty to theft at Fanling Court.

Magistrate Bernadette Woo Huey Fang rejected Fung's offer to compensate his passengers for the loss of their goods, worth HK$60,830, and sentenced him to immediate imprisonment.

She said Fung had damaged Hong Kong's reputation, and that a heavy punishment was necessary as a warning to other taxi drivers in the city.

The incident took place on August 20 around 1am, when the two 35-year-old passengers boarded Fung's taxi at Chek Lap Kok airport and asked to go to Lok Ma Chau.

When they arrived at the destination, the passengers wanted to pay the HK$290 fare in yuan, and a dispute arose over the exchange rate. Fung wanted a one-to-one exchange rate, but the pair disagreed.

The passengers then went to retrieve their luggage from the boot of the taxi, but Fung drove off with it.

When he reached Tin Shui Wai, he threw the bags into a nullah. The luggage contained 10 handbags worth about HK$35,900; two bottles of wine; a camera; a BMW car key worth HK$10,000; a mobile phone charger; and some clothes.

The tourists reported the matter to the police and he was arrested that day. Police divers conducted a search of the water catchment on August 24, but failed to find the bags.

Barrister Yeung Shak-nung said in mitigation that Fung had committed the crime in the "recklessness of the moment" and that he regretted his actions.

The lost property was not found at his home, proving he had not stolen it, Yeung said.

The barrister added that Fung had not thought the luggage would be so valuable, as people usually kept their valuables with them, but the magistrate did not accept this as mitigation.

Yeung described Fung as an honest person. He had been a taxi driver for 10 years and had never stolen anything from his passengers, the barrister said.

Taxi Dealers and Owners Association president Ng Kwan-sing said a severe punishment was appropriate to discourage other cabbies from committing similar offences.

Describing Fung's actions as "irrational and very stupid", Ng called on taxi drivers to maintain good manners and to avoid conflicts with passengers when discussing fare exchange rates.

One of the passengers, Yu Yuanhang, who lives in Shenzhen, said in a telephone interview with Cable TV: "If he's really willing to correct his mistake, I'll forgive him."

 

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28

This article is now closed to comments

whymak
I agree with the readers that those cheap, arrogant tourists deserve their loss. But this is not to be mistaken as their hate mainland reason, which is self-destructive and many times more despicable than the bad behavior of some tourists.
The judge has spoken; whether the sentence is appropriate is no longer the point unless the taxi driver wants to file an appeal. If Margaret Ng, Martin Lee and Audrey Eu preach what they believe, they should offer their pro bono service. Where are they?
By their demonstrated sentiments, the hateful readers in this column deserve no right to live in this civilized city governed by common law - now guaranteed by one country two systems. We will be much relieved if these bad eggs leave HK and seek greener pastures elsewhere.
The cab driver could have refused to accept renminbi, which is not Hong Kong's legal tender. He didn't. Instead he unwittingly entered into a negotiation, which the tourists obliged, in order to milk an exiguous profit out of the tourists. When failed to have his way, he committed an act of vandalism and petty larceny.
If I were the presiding magistrate, I would take the cab driver's remorse into consideration and perhaps hand down a more lenient sentence.
The irrational hateful sentiment displayed by many readers here is a Hong Kong shame.
ejmciii
If they wanted to pay in Yuan they should have told him when they got in the car. Yuan is NOT the currency of HK. The driver's reaction here was not proper but neither was it proper for the customer to spring unilaterally the payment terms on the driver after he had provided the service. If I wanted to pay in Singapore dollars or US dollars, I should tell the driver ahead of time so he can decide if that is ok. It is still a contract. We are not their slaves.
robdingwall
If they had a key for a BMW that was worth HK$10,000 alone - NOTE: a key! what the hell were they doing arguing over a few dollars!
caractacus
One supposes that if the passengers were not mainlanders the comments would not be so sympathetic to the taxi driver. Whatever the altercation, he could have taken the RMB at an exchange rate which ensured him a profit. Instead he allowed his filthy temper full reign and stole the luggage. If he did it to YOU, no doubt you would be calling for little short of the death penalty.
clk2828
Why is SCMP filtering comments? Is there no freedom of speech anymore here?
chaz_hen
Well, it's not like SCMP is located in a free country.
And I noticed that my statement - referring that if "Super" tycoon LKS did something similar, he'd get a one day suspended sentence - is no longer here.
Must be a rabid 50 center running around hitting the "report" button.
lausyman
@chaz_hen, your comment is on page 1. Its still there
chaz_hen
They truly are not investing much in quality software here as far as updates, page screens, etc. Thanks.
hodfords
My heart goes out to the taxi driver. Unruly and disrespectful mainlanders obviously pushed this guy to the edge.
Without knowing the full facts; I can only speculate that the unruly mainlanders asked the taxi driver to take them to the airport - upon arrival they probably made known that they didn't have Hong Kong Dollars and instead forced the driver to accept their ill-gotten Renmenbi and at the exchange rate that they determined. The taxi driver probably did not want to accept Renmenbi nor did he want to accept the rate of exchange proposed.
I think the mainlanders should have been sued for theft too; because they rendered a service (transport from A to B) from the taxi driver and did not pay the amount that they owed; so they stole that journey from the taxi driver.
The psychology of mainlanders is interesting; because most of them made their money scamming people they constantly think that others will scam them so they inherently distrust everyone they deal with.
ninacheung
Hmm the tossed luggage was never found? So there is only the passengers word as "proof" of what was inside and how valuable it was? On other hand, how does not finding the luggage in the taxi driver's home prove he did not steal it? He could have stashed the bags somewhere else exactly for the reason of not bringing incriminating evidence to his home. However, he has the right to be presumed innocent to theft unless evidence to the contrary is found. Lastly, the official currency in Hong Kong is HKD; surely a driver has the right to expect to be paid in HKD, unless something else was agreed BEFORE starting the journey. - Overall I get the impression the magistrate wanted to kiss (rich) mainland a**.
shafinhk
In my opinion a sentence of two weeks with an order to pay back the money to the victims within 30 days or face further sentence of 6 months should be appropriate.
I am not sure if this taxi driver has children or not. if he has children then it is not good for them to live apart from father for 6 weeks. They are punished without doing any crime.
I also believe that this is the time government and taxi association should have to think seriously about introducing VISA (credit ) cards to avoid future incidents. This is electronic world people do not carry cash and it is normal now NOT to carry cash. Taxi Association can also install OCTOPUS cards machine in all taxis.
I will say that Taxi association is also partially blamable/responsible for this incident because they failed to update the taxis in line with world level. i.e. No CCTV cameras, NO Credit card facility, no Octopus card facility.
We live in Asia's world city. and we don't have advance taxi standards. Police, courts and continue policing taxi drovers will not bring change. we have to upgrade our system to bring a change. we need to bring change in thinking to have a real change.
mercedes2233
There should be some rule to protect taxi drivers from difficult passengers. Maybe in HK payment should be made in HKD so these negotiations needn't occur. Strange that the magistrate didn't let the driver compensate for the loss. The plaintiffs are still out of their goods.
Dai Muff
You can travel out of Hong Kong for weeks or months, and you always come back with the trepidation that your first cab driver is likely to be a jerk and really bring you back to HK reality with a bump. Both sides deserved what they got.
liukuei
I've had several fits of, not road rage, but mainlander rage myself. I don't mean I drive taxis, but that a certain common type of mainlanders -argumentative, ignorant, queue-jumping, pushy- sets off my temper, and I don't think i'm alone. My sympathies to the driver. I probably would have done the same if not tried to beat some sense into them. Not only pay in RMB, but demand one-to-one?; i'm fuming already.
XYZ
Just to get the story straight: the fare was HK$290. Current exchange rate is HK$1 = RMB .8. He agreed to accept RMB at 1 to 1; they refused, offered to pay HK$1 = RMB .9. Financially, the dispute was over HK$30. Emotionally, it was about a mainlander trampling upon the dignity of a Hong Kong taxi driver by not having the legal tender to pay the fare, insisting the driver accept RMB and then bargaining over the exchange rate. The poor fellow snapped. Although I think the sentence is a fair one, I feel sympathy for the guy just the same.
clk2828
The taxi driver is still uneducatedly stupid even though he unluckily meets fuzzy mainlanders. The truth is HKD is not one to one exchange rate and there's no point arguing for a 1 to 1 exchange. Secondly, he could have drove the luggage to a nearby police station and report the incident and let the police force deal with the mainlanders. It's technically not legal to use non-HKD currency in HK and the police will have their way to penalise the mainland offenders. By doing this stupid act, it really damages HK reputation and divides the Chinese nation. HK people should set a good example to the world and also let the rest of the Chinese provinces learn from our polite manners that we are expected to have!
chaz_hen
As was questioned when the story first broke...maybe one reason they were so eager to go 1-to-1 (in the dark wee hours) was that their money was FAKE? I'm sure a HK cabbie would not have had his infra red lights and special machines to detect the fake bills and with the forgeries being so good these days, it really would take an expert to discern.
XYZ
I had that Jackie Chan in my cab one time. I threw him out because he didn't have the right currency to pay the fare.
grouperm
PCC - watch your language you ignorant baffoon. Why don't you reveal yourself and allow others to trample all over your heritage with racial slurs....I'd have a field day
XYZ
I am Norwegian.
XYZ
Dear Grouperm, I don't think there is anything racialist about my comment and that was certainly not my intention, but if I have offended you in any way, I sincerely apology. BTW, I am Norwegian.
XYZ
Gee, I don't think there's anything racialist about my comments and I certainly didn't intend to cause offense but, if I have done so, I apologize sincerely. By the way, I am Norwegian.
cwfisher2
As a white expatriate living in hong kong over 14 years I struggle to summon up sympathy for a hong kong taxi driver.... Last Friday I watched over 25 empty taxis pass up passengers in front of my house on wellington street between 2 am and 3 am.
However the last few sentences give me a lot of trouble - especially "When they arrived at their destination, the pair discussed paying the HK$290 fare in yuan, but argued with Fung over the rate of exchange". Hong Kong currency is Hong Kong dollars. Nothing can excuse driving off with passengers' luggage. However, why didn't he just call the police when they evaded paying the fare in the legal tender of the realm?
boondeiyan
Your first few sentences give me a lot of trouble. What does your race have anything to do with this? Why do you identify yourself as an expatriate after 14 years in HK that presumably qualifies you for permanent residence? And after all that time, what on earth are you doing living on Wellington Street?? I'm unable to summon up any sympathy for your ignorance of why taxi drivers might ignore people near Lan Kwai Fong/SoHo at 3AM [hint: search the SCMP site for "Wong Chi-ming" AND "Kelsey Mudd"].
XYZ
No doubt with the benefit of hindsight he would follow your advice and call the police. In the heat of the moment, however, the red mist descended and he lost his rag.
grouperm
I think the actual question should be why didn't he drive them to one of those ubiquitious ATMs around the city. The added fare would have been the proper handling (and justification) for their not having the correct currency.
impala
The taxi driver is in the wrong, no doubt. He should at the very least receive a fine + compensate the passengers for the loss. A conditional (jail) sentence would also seem appropriate, to deter him from mishandling a dispute like this.

But 10 weeks in jail for throwing somebody's luggage in a pond seems excessive. Very excessive even given the circumstances, in which the taxi driver was obviously angered by the passenger's refusal to pay him in regular Hong Kong currency.
chaz_hen
If he were a tycoon like LKS, he would have gotten a 1 day sentence - commuted, walked to his Rolls by the judge, and granted another monopoly by the HK government.
 
 
 
 
 

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