Pair acquitted in trial in wake of Hong Kong ‘gutter oil’ scandal

Company director and clerk were accused of falsifying documents that gave rise to 2014 controversy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 5:04pm

An export company director and a clerk at the centre of the “gutter oil” scandal that rocked Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2014, were on Wednesday acquitted of falsifying documents.

Globalway Corporation ­director Kong Kwai-choi, 66, and Lai Yuk-kwan ,33, walked free after the District Court found insufficient evidence to prove they were behind a faxed instruction in 2001 that later drew Hong Kong into the scandal.

Judge Gary Lam Kar-yan, ­delivering his verdict, said he had suspicions that Kong, 65, would have known of the conspiracy ­given his director status. However, he added, the possibility was not absolute.

“With reluctance, I find [the two defendants] not guilty of [conspiracy to make false instruments],” he said.

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With all three people who were originally charged now dealt with by the court, the acquittal marked – at least for now – the end of the scandal that centred on Kong’s Globalway and its partner ­company Eagle View. More than 1,000 tonnes of lard were exported to Taiwan unchecked as a result of the scandal.

It is unclear if there will be ­future prosecutions.

The two companies failed to ensure the city’s exported lard was fit for human consumption before shipping it to edible oil supplier Chang Guann in Taiwan, though there was no evidence in court to show the Taiwanese firm had definitely used the lard.

Chang Guann was later exposed as having produced cooking oil mixed with gutter oil recycled from restaurants and leather processing plants, which subsequently led to a citywide ban on a long list of tainted products imported from the strait.

During the most recent trial, the court heard Globalway, which exported lard, instructed Eagle View, responsible for vetting the product’s quality, to falsify a report without conducting checks.

This was included in the testimony given by So Tat-wai, the disgraced director Eagle View, who was jailed for two years in 2015 ­after pleading guilty to the same charge Kong and Lai faced.

So testified that he received a message not to conduct checks via fax in 2001.

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But given the lapse of time, the judge on Wednesday said, So was no longer able to recall whether it was Kong or his staff, who gave the ­instruction, which caused doubt.

As for Lai, the clerk, Judge Lam said her involvement was restricted to sending the fax at most.

The pair also denied one charge of perverting the course of justice when Kong swapped an ­invoice seized by two Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officers during their investigation in 2014.

Lam acquitted them of the charge.

Hong Kong’s involvement in the scandal came to light when the Centre for Food Safety inspected Globalway last September upon a request from Taiwanese authorities.

Outside court, Kong, who remains Globalway’s director, said he was happy about the verdict.