Graft-busters lose appeal over witness coaching

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 5:12am

Three graft-busters convicted of coaching a key witness on how to testify in a HK$100 million fraud case have had their appeal dismissed.

The Court of Appeal rejected claims by Kevin Cho Wing-nin, 47, Ben Chan Kai-hung, 39, and John Au Kim-fung, 43, that the main witness in their 2012 District Court trial was unreliable.

Cho, a chief investigator at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and Chan, a senior investigator, are serving 30-month jail sentences for one count each of perverting the course of justice and one of misconduct in public office. Au, an assistant investigator, was jailed for 18 months for misconduct.

The three told the appeal court the main witness against them, Cheung Ching-ho, could not be trusted as he was a liar who had been convicted of fraud.

Cheung was a key prosecution witness in the 2009 fraud trial of "King of Warrants" Raymond Ng Chun-to. While preparing for the case, Cheung prompted the three to instruct him on how to testify, and secretly recorded the conversation.

In the judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Lunn found that the judge in the original trial was right to accept Cheung's evidence, based on the recordings.

"The judge was entitled to infer - not only from the lack of denial by [Cho] of the assertion made by Cheung, but also from the positive suggestions made by [Cho] - that Cheung's evidence was true," the judge wrote.

Au argued that the trial judge had failed to take into account that he was the most junior of the three officers when convicting him. The original hearing was told that Au had not sought promotion because he feared a more senior role would leave him with less time for his children.

"[But] even if it was the case that he was not an ambitious officer, nevertheless he was an officer of 13 years' experience at the material time," Lunn wrote. He ruled that it was not an error for the judge to rule that Au had participated in a sustained manner in the coaching of Cheung.

Lunn, with court vice-president Mr Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen and Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor, dismissed the appeal.

Cheung was jailed for 25 months in 2011 for conspiring with Ng to manipulate the warrants market after he was stripped of immunity for refusing to give evidence in Ng's trial. Ng was jailed for four years in 2010.

Before his arrest, Cho was a high-flying investigator who had handled some of the ICAC's most high-profile cases, while Chan had won a long-service award for his unblemished record.