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Hong Kong courts

Hong Kong domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih wins battle to stop abusive ex-boss evading HK$800,000 in damages

Court rules that share in property Law Wan-tung offloaded to her husband can be considered part of her assets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 5:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 11:48pm

Former Hong Kong domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih on Thursday won the last leg of her legal battle against an abusive employer, successfully preventing her ex-boss evading a court order to hand over HK$809,430 in damages.

The High Court ruled that a transaction in which Law Wan-tung transferred half her share of a HK$7 million flat to her husband had been an attempt to offload assets and place herself in debt so as to avoid paying her former employee.

The Indonesian helper was awarded HK$809,430 (US$103,600) last week in damages to be paid by Law, who is currently serving a six-year jail sentence for subjecting Erwiana to seven months of abuse in 2013 and 2014.

But whether that compensation order would be effectively enforced depended on the outcome of the case on Thursday, as Law had fallen into debt after transferring the property to her estranged husband, Barry Tsui Yun-bun, who is also a defendant in the court action.

Law has only slightly more than HK$2,000 in her bank accounts, and is burdened by more than HK$137,000 in credit card debts.

But the victory for Erwiana means the damages payment awarded to her by the District Court a week ago can now be financed by the HK$3.5 million share in the flat.

Stewart Wong Kai-ming, presiding over the case, wrote in his judgment on Thursday that Law and her husband’s move constituted an act “with intent to defraud creditors and to obstruct or delay the execution of any judgment ... against [Law].”

He ruled the transfer invalid.

Erwiana told the Post she was happy with the decision.

Tortured helper Erwiana wins HK$809,430 civil claim against abusive Hong Kong employer

But Wong said the court did not have the power to order the property be used specifically to pay compensation. Law will be able to choose how to finance the payment, but the property will be considered part of her assets, making her less insolvent than she claimed to be.

The flat, at Beverly Garden in Tseung Kwan O, is the same property where assaults against Erwiana took place.

Law claimed she had only been holding her share of the flat in trust for their children, and it was her husband who had paid for it.

Watch: Erwiana vows to continue to fight for domestic workers’ rights after court victory

But in rejecting that claim, the judge said he found it “surprising” that such an intention was never mentioned in the property deed when it was purchased.

He also refused to accept Law’s assertion that she had been forced to transfer the flat back to her husband due to their separation. He found they had not separated in the sense that there had been a “breakdown” in the relationship between them.

The property transaction took place as law awaited her guilty verdict in the criminal trial of 2015. Law said she had not carried out the transfer on purpose and there was no way she would have been able to “predict the future”.

But Wong said: “I do not think that it is really predicting the future to expect ... a civil claim would be filed soon.”

The trial three years ago heard how Erwiana was repeatedly assaulted between May 2013 and January 2014 when the helper worked for Law. The latter was convicted of 18 out of 20 charges brought against her related to the assault and criminal intimidation of Erwiana and another domestic helper, Tutik Lestari Ningsih, as well as labour-related offences.

The helper’s ordeal drew global attention and highlighted the tough conditions faced by many of Hong Kong’s 330,000 domestic helpers, who are often deprived of rest and forced to sleep in tiny spaces.

I will continue to fight for better conditions for Hong Kong’s domestic helpers, vows Erwiana Sulistyaningsih after court victory

The court heard how a vacuum cleaner tube was inserted into Erwiana’s mouth. On another occasion, during winter, she was stripped naked and splashed with cold water, with a fan blowing at her.

These findings were revisited by District Court judge Winnie Tsui Wan-wah in her judgment handed down last week on Erwiana’s civil claim.

She called Law’s mistreatment of the helper “inhumane, degrading and abhorrent”, and designed to bring about “humiliation, distress and loss of human dignity”.

“The defendant’s acts were designed to ‘teach a lesson’ to the plaintiff that she, as the defendant’s domestic helper, was inferior and must do as ordered,” Tsui said.