Centaline property agent sues law firm, barristers who represented him

Plaintiff jailed for 14 months, then cleared, claims his legal team didn't do their job

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:03am

A property agency manager has sued a law firm and two of its barristers, claiming they failed in their duty to defend him against allegations that he paid kickbacks to secure a deal.

Poon Chi-ming, formerly a general manager at Centaline Commercial, was convicted in June 2008 of two counts of conspiracy to defraud in the District Court and jailed for 22 months.

The ruling was overturned on appeal and he was released after spending 14 months in jail.

Poon, now chief operating officer of Centaline Commercial, filed the High Court writ on Friday against the law firm, Simon C.W. Yung & Co, and the barristers, Eric Kwok SC and Vivian Ho.

Poon and two other agents were found guilty of conspiring to deceive Centaline into paying HK$600,000 in kickbacks to a private company in two transactions between 2005 and 2006. They had claimed the money was paid as referral fees to an employee of a company buying a commercial property.

Kwok and Ho represented Poon in the District Court trial.

Poon hired another legal team to represent him on appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled in his favour and quashed his conviction in March 2010. Poon was released after spending 14 months in jail.

The appeal court judges found that the defence counsel had failed to make good use of a witness statement, meaning Poon missed out on a fair trial.

The statement was made by billionaire Law Kar-po, the boss of the company which was buying the property. Law told the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he had known about the deal and allowed his employee to accept the referral fees from the property agent.

The statement had been given to Poon's lawyers before the trial.

The appeal court found the defence counsel had failed to use the statement when questioning Centaline chairman Shih Wing-ching. Shih was a witness in the trial and testified that if he knew the firm had agreed to the employee receiving referral fees, it would have paid the commission and not felt it had been deceived.

In the writ, Poon claims that Kwok, Ho and the law firm failed to appreciate that Law's statement contained crucial evidence.

He also says they failed to instruct Poon to call Law and other related parties as defence witnesses.