Former clerk who embezzled HK$2.6m from Hong Kong law firm wanted to ‘spice up her life’

District Court heard nearly half the money went to pay the chamber and apartment rentals of young barrister

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 11:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 11:18pm

A former clerk who embezzled HK$2.6 million from a solictors’ firm because she wanted to spice up her life and support a young barrister was jailed for 30 months on Monday.

Anita Lam Yuk-ming, 57, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft committed on 74 occasions between May 2014 and last September.

The District Court heard that nearly half the money went to pay the chamber and apartment rentals of barrister Li Wai-ho, whom she met through work.

The rest was used to repay her personal mortgages and loans as Judge Kwok Wai-kin noted she was living a life beyond her means.

Her defence counsel Kevin Egan said in mitigation that this was “truly a tragic case” as Lam had thus far lived an unblemished life. “Unfortunately she experienced a meltdown or a midlife ­crisis and then she’s done this, which is entirely out of character,” he said.

Egan said his client borrowed money from various financial ­institutions to “spice up her life” because “she somehow felt that life was passing her by”.

He did not go into detail about the relations between Lam and Li.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s some sort of infatuation between a middle-aged spinster and a young man,” he said.

The court heard that about HK$1.4 million had been repaid, with Lam forfeiting HK$330,000 in MPF contributions and Li repaying HK$1.07 million that he had received unaware of the source.

But the judge slammed her ­actions for damaging the firm’s reputation on top of bringing monetary losses.

“The money was not used for charitable means, but to ‘spice up her life’, whatever that means,” Kwok said. “She lost the power to think rationally at the time of committing these offences.”

Lam worked as a clerk at Lo, Wong & Tsui Solicitors & Notaries for 21 years, earning a monthly wage of HK$18,000 for handling paperwork that included preparing payment vouchers for solicitors to sign.

But one partner discovered a transfer of HK$60,000 was made out of his client’s account without his endorsement last September. Lam was fired the next day after it was found she was linked to 74 problematic transactions.

Lam at first told her ­employers that she made a mistake when completing the vouchers, but she later admitted to police she had mixed genuine vouchers with the problematic ones for solicitors to sign.

“It is beyond doubt the defendant breached [her employers’] trust,” the judge said.