Macau considering revision of law on judicial system ahead of former top prosecutor’s trial

Move comes amid renewed calls for changes to article that does not allow top officials to appeal against court decisions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 1:33am

Macau is considering revising a law which governs the organisation of the judicial system, as the trial of the city’s former prosecution chief led to renewed calls for changes to the article which does not allow top officials to file an appeal.

Macau’s former public prosecutor general Ho Chio-meng and his accomplices face a total of 1,970 criminal charges relating to illegal activities such as initiating or founding a criminal syndicate, fraud and money laundering.

This high number of charges has led to perplexity and concern among people in Macau.

The trial, which is expected to last at least a month, is scheduled to begin on December 5. But Ho’s lawyer, Leong Weng-pun, has requested to postpone it by 20 days due to the case’s complexity.

The maximum jail term in Macau is 30 years.

Former Macau top prosecutor snared in corruption probe to face 1,970 criminal charges

Ho’s case is the second high-profile trial involving the city’s top officials in recent years, after that of former secretary for transport and public works Ao Man-long.

But it is believed to be the largest in terms of the number of charges in Macau’s history.

Local law dictates that top officials – including the chief executive and the top prosecutor – have to face the Court of Final Appeal, meaning they cannot make further appeals after their case conclude. “The fact that he can’t appeal against the decision is unjust,” lawyer Nuno Simoes, who represented Ao, said.

Similar calls to lift the ban were made when Ao was taken to court.

He was detained in 2006 and later sentenced to about 29 years in jail for 90 crimes, mostly relating to receiving bribes and money laundering.

Ao was also judged by the Court of Final Appeal with no right to appeal.

Pedro Leal, lawyer for Ao’s relatives and another defendant in Ho’s case, is among the advocates for the review. He said that top officials should be given the chance to appeal, noting that: “I said this 10 years ago. It does not seem fair to me … But it looks like there was no political will to change the legislation.”

In response, the government told the Post that it was considering a revision of the law, but it did not say whether the article with a reference to the Court of Final Appeal will be changed.

“All questions are under discussion,” a spokesman for the Macau Legal Affairs Bureau said.

He noted that there has been “a close collaboration with magistrates and the public general prosecutor office” for the revision, which is currently at a “preparatory stage”.

Ho, who was arrested on February 27, allegedly awarded some 2,000 public works contracts from the prosecution office worth more than 167 million patacas to local businessmen from 2004 to 2014. The suspects involved – Ho and nine other individuals – are accused of pocketing at least 44 million patacas.

I said this 10 years ago. It does not seem fair to me … But it looks like there was no political will to change the legislation
Pedro Leal

Simoes also noted that the number of charges which Ho was facing could be fewer, if some of the crimes had been considered as part of a continuous practice, rather than individual actions.

Leal, who represented 14K triad leader “Broken Tooth” Wan Kuok-koi, also said that he was very much surprised by the high number of crimes, particularly that of criminal association, which refers to offences related to initiating or founding a criminal syndicate.

He noted that, if the weekends were excluded, it meant the former prosecutor had committed a crime every two days. “I don’t believe that there was no one who saw it or at least who found something suspicious,” he said.

Another lawyer in the city, who did not want to reveal his identity, said that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive precipitated Ho’s fall.

Ho, who became top prosecutor in 1999 and was once tipped to be the city’s chief executive, was replaced at the end of 2014.

The three lawyers said that the current case sent out two different messages to society.

“The first is that no one is above the law,” Simoes said.

But the second is contradictory, he said. “The way the case is presented suggests that there were probably rumours earlier about these crimes but no one did anything.

“It suggests that people had a lot of impunity for several years and it is only now – for political reasons or other reasons that we are not aware of – that they are accused,” he said.

Leal noted that the case might have an impact on the credibility of the public prosecutions office. He said that mechanisms to supervise the office’s activities should be put in place.