Brothers plead not guilty to blackmailing Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ crew

Pair's blackmail case live-tweeted by SCMP as courts roll out Wi-fi and text-based communications

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 9:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 12:09pm

The two brothers charged with trying to extort HK$100,000 from the crew of the film Transformers: Age of Extinction when they were filming in Hong Kong pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

In District Court, Mak Chi-shing, 27, and Mak Chi-hang, 28, pleaded not guilty to one count of blackmail and another of assaulting police officers.

The alleged blackmail took place on the morning of October 17 when the crew was about to film outside a building in King’s Road, Quarry Bay.

The pair operated a shop, Hang Fat Air Conditioner and Water Electrical Company, at the shooting site on the ground floor of the building.

Hollywood director Michael Bay was previously reported to be hit by the brother, but no charges were pressed relating to the alleged attack.

Prosecutors said in the opening that the elder brother threw an "air-conditioning unit" towards Bay after the crew refused to pay the money demanded.

It was reported that after that incident Bay wrote on his Facebook page that "the guy tried to bite like a zombie from World War Z".

Bay will not testify in court. His statements would unlikely be read out in court.

The court heard that on the night before, the crew’s assistant location manager Cheung Ngo-yeung visited the place and offered to pay the brothers HK$800 as compensation for disruption to their businesses.

But the elder brother asked for HK$1,000, an amount Cheung agreed to after consulting his supervisor. But then the younger brother raised the demand to HK$2,000, the court heard.

Prosecutor Lee Chiu-tong said that before Cheung left, Mak Chi-hang asked him: "Were you blackmailed for protection fees during shooting?"

"You will not be able to shoot if someone asks you for protection fees tomorrow," the prosecutor quoted the elder brother as saying.

Cheung then replied: "I think it would not happen."

Lee said the defendant then said: "Let’s see if you will be blackmailed tomorrow."

The prosecutor said when the crew arrived at the scene at about 5am the next day, the brothers were playing loud music in their shop.

When Cheung approached the brothers to discuss the matter of compensation, the younger brother demanded HK$100,000, which was immediately rejected by Cheung, the court heard.

The prosecutor said that the elder brother then uttered abusive words to Cheung. The brothers also said they would gather other "brothers" to "do something".

The two then made noises by hitting objects. Cheung offered HK$5,000 but the brothers rejected it.

Five to six men later arrived and talked to the two brothers. The Maks then moved bricks out of the shop to obstruct the crew from filming.

Police was called in to handle a "nuisance" case, the court heard.

"Later, the second defendant [the elder brother] placed an air-conditioning unit on his shoulder and threw it towards film director Michael Bay," the prosecutor said.

The court heard that the elder brother was immediately pinned to the ground by crew members. Police officers suffered minor injuries such as abrasion and muscle straining when restraining the brothers.

Testifying in court, Cheung said the brothers said they wanted HK$100,000 because they could not do their businesses and "many people" had been affected.

Cheung said at one time, he had offered HK$6,000 for each of the two brothers but not to the other men.

The court heard that the crew paid shops at the site an amount between several hundreds dollars and up to HK$80,000 each. The highest amount was paid to rent two shops for a week.

Cheung said it was chaotic and he could not remember many details. "I can only recall that the director was hurt and police was called," Cheung said.

"I wasn’t there when the director was hurt. I do not know who hurt him," Cheung said. "I was handling other matters at that time."

Sergeant Ng Kwok-wai said when he was inquiring the representatives of the crew and the chairwomman of the incorporated owners of the building in a caretakers’ office nearby, he heard loud noises all in a sudden.

"I heard someone yelled ’fighting’," Ng said. He and his colleagues then rushed to the scene.

"The onlookers said [the elder brother] hit the gweilo [foreigner]," he said, referring to Bay as the foreigner.

The trial continues on Wednesday before Judge Josiah Lam Wai-kuen.

This case involves the first of two alleged blackmail during the crew’s 10-day stay in Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post tweeted live updates of the trial on the first day that the judiciary allows live text-based communication in the courtroom.

The judiciary announced last week that live text-based communication would, from Tuesday, be permitted in courtrooms to further promote open justice.

The move reflects an international trend to allow text-based communication at the courts.But electronic devices used for communication, such as mobile phones or tablet computers, must be switched to “flight mode”, disconnecting them from 3G and 4G telecommunications networks, so they do not interfere with court recording systems.

Instead, Wi-fi networks will gradually be rolled out in courts, starting today with the Wan Chai Law Courts Building, which includes the District Court, to enable the public to send e-mails and text messages, and to post to blogs.

Taking photographs and drawing in court remain banned, as are audio or video recordings and phone calls.