The city's first trial on the sale of fake tickets for the Rugby Sevens tournament is on the verge of collapse, after the prosecution's sole witness went missing yesterday.
Alexander de Sola Torgersen, 33, failed to reappear in Eastern Court at noon to continue giving his testimony as an agent working for sports-ticket agency Euroteam. His phone was switched off and he was found to have checked out of his hotel. A day earlier, he had given a one-hour account of the scam in the afternoon.
The Norwegian is a witness in the case of Christopher McConville, a 24-year-old Briton who is charged with obtaining Euro10,000 (HK$100,466) by deception through selling 76 fake tickets to this year's match to Torgersen. He is also charged with a breach of condition of stay by establishing or joining in a business.
Senior public prosecutor Ira Lui Tsz-ming told Magistrate Li Kwok-wai that despite strenuous attempts to locate Torgersen - including calling his phone and visiting his hotel - he was nowhere to be found.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said Torgersen, as the only witness the prosecution had secured, had been invited from Norway. The government arranged his journey to Hong Kong in hopes of prosecuting McConville successfully.
Lui said he had been scheduled to fly back to Norway last night, about which the police and immigration department had been notified.
Neither the prosecution nor the magistrate was inclined to issue a warrant against him.
Torgersen's disappearance came after McConville was granted bail again on Thursday.
On Thursday, the witness pointed at McConville before the magistrate to ascertain that the defendant was the vendor of the fake tickets.
But if he does not give further details, it remains unclear whether the suspect will ultimately be convicted of obtaining property by deception.
That offence could result in up to 10 years in jail. Lui said yesterday prosecutors were determined to pursue against McConville the much less serious charge of breaching his condition of stay, for which the maximum penalty is two years in prison.
Lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, who is a lawyer by profession, said the current situation would definitely put the prosecution in extreme difficulties. 'The reliability of such a witness would be in doubt from a court's perspective,' she said.
McConville remains on bail. The case was adjourned to next Wednesday, by which time the prosecutor must decide how to proceed.