Suspended jail term for Hong Kong school place swindler

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 3:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 5:27am

A businessman who cheated a couple out of three Rolex watches by promising to help their son get into a prestigious boys' school has been given a nine-month suspended prison sentence.

Kwun Tong magistrate Anthony Yuen Wai-ming told Joseph Lam Sui-kei: "Given the seriousness of the offences, the court could have passed an immediate custodial sentence."

Outside court, Lam, 50, vowed to appeal, saying he could not admit what he had not done. He had denied two counts of obtaining property by deception but was found guilty at an earlier hearing.

The court heard yesterday that Lam would pay HK$119,000 in compensation.

The magistrate said he suspended the sentence for 18 months as Lam had no criminal record and had not planned the crime. It means Lam must exhibit good behaviour over that period or risk going to jail. "He just made use of the opportunity to deceive the couple of their properties when they sought help from him," said the magistrate.

Earlier, the court heard that Lam, a partner in an IT company, had persuaded the couple during the summer of 2012 to donate the three watches, worth HK$219,000 in total, to an auction held by the alumni association of the Diocesan Boys' School in Mong Kok. In return, Lam said they would receive a letter of recommendation for their son from the association.

The couple, a lawyer and a legal clerk, had sought help from Lam after their son failed to get a place at La Salle Primary School in Kowloon Tong. When the boy later did gain admission to La Salle that August, the pair asked for the watches back.

Lam told them the watches had already been sold. He promised to repay them but returned just HK$100,000. The alumni association confirmed that there had been no such auction.

On its website, the Diocesan Boys' School says its admission process is "fair and transparent" and that it "is not necessary to obtain many reference letters, including those from coaches and instructors, at an excessive cost".