Prove defendants had agreement to import Singapore military vehicles without licence, defence demands in Terrex case
Lawyers ask why charges facing shipmaster Pan Xuejun and shipping firm APL were combined just before case was moved up to District Court
The case against a shipmaster and a shipping firm accused of illegally importing nine Singaporean military vehicles hit a snag on Tuesday after defence lawyers challenged prosecutors to prove both parties had agreed to do so without the required licence.
Mainland shipmaster Pan Xuejun, 39, and shipping company APL were originally brought to court separately after customs officers impounded nine Terrex armoured troop carriers on November 23 last year.
But their cases were consolidated into one just before assistant director of public prosecutions Bianca Cheng applied at the last hearing to move the case up to the District Court due to the gravity of the allegations.
The defendants now face a joint count of importing strategic commodities without the necessary licence, with prosecutors alleging they imported into Hong Kong nine vehicles designed or modified for military use under a sea waybill without having an import licence issued by the director general of trade and industry. In a joint enterprise, the accomplice of the party who committed the crime is equally liable.
Defence counsel Joseph Tse Wah-yuen SC said the original decision to prosecute his clients separately had been a fair one and demanded that prosecutors explain why there had been a change.
“I can’t see the basis to support how the charge was laid out,” Tse told the District Court. “Prosecutors have to prove the two defendants have an agreement, an understanding, for there to be a joint enterprise.”
Supporting the challenge, district judge Anthony Kwok Kai-on ordered prosecutors to provide an explanation in two weeks after acknowledging that the defence had “appropriately observed” that the basis of prosecuting on joint enterprise was problematic.
Tse also asked for more time to offer legal advice and liaise with prosecutors as he revealed there was a sizeable volume of evidence in what he described as a complex case.
Thirty prosecution witnesses – including a firearms expert – have been lined up, and prosecutors, he said, had sent the defence 1,344 pages of unused materials.
Both applications were approved after prosecutor Cheng voiced no objection.
The case was adjourned for seven weeks to July 25, with Pan released on his existing bail of HK$50,000.
Under Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance, a licence is required to ship any strategic commodities. An offence is punishable by an unlimited fine and seven years’ imprisonment.
The nine Terrex armoured troop carriers were intercepted while en route to Singapore from the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung after a military training exercise.