Pair cleared of conspiring to blackmail the crew of new Transformers film

Not enough evidence of conspiracy, says judge, who questioned prosecution's choice of charge; Tse Chung-ping convicted of lesser offence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 8:47am

Two men were yesterday cleared of conspiring to blackmail the crew of the latest Transformers film, though one was convicted of a related offence - and told he was "lucky" not to have faced a different charge.

Tse Chung-ping, 35, and Choi Kin-shun, 30, were found not guilty of conspiracy to commit blackmail after a District Court trial, though Tse was convicted of loitering with intent to commit a crime. Choi was cleared of the latter charge.

"You need to understand that this time you're lucky," Judge Lee Wan-tang said as he sentenced Tse to three months in prison. Had he faced a simple charge of blackmail "it wouldn't just be three months".

Lee questioned why the prosecution had not simply brought a charge of blackmail, given that it was the fact the element of conspiracy had not been established that led to the not guilty verdict.

He said Tse had demonstrated behaviour that would "affect people's courage and stability, making someone anxious and compelled to do things".

The court earlier heard that Tse showed up on the rooftop of I-Feng Mansion in To Kwa Wan, where the crew of Transformers: Age of Extinction was filming on October 22. He was accompanied by an unknown number of men, one of whom was Choi.

Lee said that when Tse spoke to the crew, he used collective pronouns such as "we" and "us" to create the impression he had back-up. He said Tse used a Cantonese phrase meaning "worship the Gods while in a temple", which Lee interpreted as a euphemistic request for money.

"When you said … 'You're treating me as [if I'm] invisible', you were exerting further pressure," the judge added.

In mitigation, Victor Lee, for Tse, said his client's behaviour did not significantly disrupt filming, and that he did not specifically target a foreign crew. But the judge saw no room for leniency, given the "gang-like" methods.

The case was the second in recent months relating to attempts to profit from the Hollywood blockbuster's two-week shoot in the city in October.

In February, Mak Chi-shing, 27, was sentenced to 2-1/2 years for blackmail and resisting a police officer. Brother Mak Chi-hang, 29, was jailed for six weeks for resisting a police officer.

The incidents drew international attention when director Michael Bay revealed them to the media. Since its world premiere in the city in June, the film has made more than US$1 billion at the global box office.