Wife of development chief Paul Chan kept sending emails defaming teenage pupils, court hears

First day of civil trial sees Paul Chan and his wife accused of repeatedly making false claims that their daughter’s schoolmates cheated

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 3:55am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 4:37pm

The development minister and his wife were in court yesterday to face allegations that they defamed two of their daughter's schoolmates by accusing them of getting away with cheating in an exam because their father was one of the school governors.

Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and his wife Frieda Hui Po-ming are being sued by Carl Lu and his twin children Jonathan and Caitlin, both 20, in the Court of First Instance.

The Lus say that emails sent by the couple between December 1 and 15, 2011, ruined their reputations. Carl Lu is a well-known businessman and member of the Chinese International School board of governors. His children were pupils at the school, and Jonathan Lu was head boy.

The Lus' lawyer, Robert Whitehead SC, described Chan's and Hui's allegations as a "nasty situation". The couple had said in the emails they were acting out of love for the school.

"It is OK to love the school, but it is not a licence to repeatedly libel two schoolchildren and their father," Whitehead said.

The case started with a rumour among pupils and their parents in November 2011, Whitehead said, after four pupils claimed that the twins had behaved suspiciously during an exam because they looked around and had slips of paper.

The pupils reported it to their teacher and the school conducted two inquiries but ruled there was no evidence showing that the twins had cheated.

The daughter of Chan and Hui was in the same year as the twins in the school, and Hui sent an email titled "Head boy cheating" to 14 parents and the parent-teacher association's former chairman on December 1, 2011.

In the email, Hui wrote that she had heard that the twins escaped punishment because their father was a member of the school's board of governors.

Whitehead said Hui specified that her husband Chan was then a lawmaker and repeatedly said "Paul and I had the same feeling" to make her claims appear more credible.

On December 3, Justin Alexander, head of the school's secondary section, called Hui to inform her that the school found the twins had "no case to answer" to the cheating allegation, the lawyer said.

But Hui continued sending the emails to other parents, including to Teresa Ko Yuk-yin, a parent and a solicitor, on December 6. She also said Jonathan Lu had been suspected of having cheated a year earlier but was never punished for it.

Whitehead said Hui did not know Ko personally, but asked her to attend a meeting to discuss the matter with the school's headmaster two days later. Hui then sent emails to other parents, writing "Good news, Teresa will attend. She is a famous and experienced lawyer and it will put us in an advantageous position."

The lawyer said Chan might resort to "BMW, or blame my wife" as his defence, but Hui had used Chan's name to send the emails and he was included in the mailing list as well.

Chan also had to bear the liability as he allowed those emails to be spread, Whitehead said.

Describing defamation as an "assassination of people's reputation", Whitehead said: "One cannot evade their liability by claiming that it was a rumour." Hui made matters worse by circulating the rumour, he added.

The trial, which is expected to last, continues before Mr Justice Anthony To Kwai-fung and a seven-person jury today.