Hong Kong prosecutors drop fugitive tycoon’s case against Apple Daily citing his fragile health

Decision means newspaper and publisher will not face summonses over disclosing Joseph Lau Luen-hung’s personal data without his consent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 2:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 10:45pm

Hong Kong prosecutors on Wednesday dropped their case against a local newspaper for publishing fugitive Joseph Lau Luen-hung’s medical report in a trial that ended up revealing the tycoon’s recent fragile health.

Deputy director of public prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin told Kwun Tong Court that since the department was told on Monday that Lau, an important witness, was no longer fit to take the stand gainst Apple Daily, there would be no reasonable prospect for prosecution.

The prosecutors thus decided not to offer further evidence to pursue the case, he said, meaning that Apple Daily, Apple Daily Printing, and its associate publisher Cheung Kim-hung would not face their four summonses of disclosing personal data obtained without consent in breach of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.

Lau made a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data days after Apple Daily ran its medical report when it covered the tycoon’s corruption trial in Macau in 2013. Lau was jailed for more than five years in that case, but served no time behind bars due to the lack of a fugitive transfer agreement between Macau and Hong Kong, where Lau is based.

On Monday, the court dropped a bombshell when it revealed Lau was not present, prompting the magistrate to ponder an arrest warrant.

Upon further enquiries, a summary of Lau’s latest medical report was read in court, confirming that Lau – suffering from heart and renal conditions as well as diabetes – had been hospitalised and undergoing three to four dialyses per week.

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He would not be able to give testimony in the foreseeable future, the court heard.

Special magistrate Yu Chun-pong was also told Lau had been experiencing speech problems since September and should not be subjected to physical and mental stress. Yu did not issue an arrest warrant, which would normally happen for failing to obey a court’s witness summons.

In 2014, Lau and his business partner Steven Lo Kit-shing were found guilty of corruption and money laundering for paying a HK$20 million bribe to Macau’s disgraced ex-public works chief Ao Man-long, who was jailed for 29 years in 2012.

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The medical report in question, showing that Lau suffered from diabetes and high cholesterol and should avoid stress, was run by the newspaper on April 30 in 2013, after Lau asked to be excused from the Macau court for health reasons.

In arguing for legal costs on Wednesday, Leung said the Department of Justice should not bear the newspaper’s legal expenses as Apple Daily deliberately concealed the fact that the report was from 2008 when it was run in 2013. Therefore, instead of claiming the protection of public interest, the prosecutor said, the newspaper brought suspicion upon itself.

Defence counsel Michael Blanchflower SC, for Apple Daily, was to file his written argument on Thursday for the judge to make a decision as early as Friday.