FORMER Carrian boss George Tan Soon-gin was pushed to freedom in a wheelchair yesterday after 715 days of captivity for his part in one of Hong Kong's biggest financial scandals.
Mr Tan, plagued by a heart condition, looked a pale shadow of the tycoon who built a spectacular property empire only to see it crash with debts of $8 billion.
His prison sentence ended as it had begun, in the custodial ward of Queen Elizabeth Hospital. After gasping his first taste of freedom, the 63-year-old was helped into an ambulance and driven to another hospital.
He had earlier abandoned his first attempt to leave, when his wheelchair failed to penetrate the massed ranks of the media.
His lawyer William Catley emerged to make a statement on his behalf.
'Mr Tan wishes to thank the press for their interest in his well-being and his release,' Mr Catley said.
'As will be apparent from the fact that he is being released from hospital, Mr Tan's health is not good.
'In these circumstances, it is his intention now to spend a quiet time with his family and to seek appropriate medical assistance to enable him to resume a normal life.' Mr Catley said his client would not comment on the circumstances which led to his conviction which came 13 years after the collapse of the Carrian empire. The case cost taxpayers $210 million.
Mr Tan was strapped into a seat beside an oxygen cylinder and attended by a doctor during the 30-minute journey to the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital and Heart Centre on Stubbs Road.
The journey took him directly past the High Court, scene of his long and bitter legal battle. It ended with Tan pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud in exchange for a three-year jail term, over the fraud plot involving $1.84 billion in secret loans obtained by the Carrian property empire from the Malaysian Bank Bumiputra.
On arrival at the hospital, where a private room with bathroom, TV and telephone costs $2,700 a day, Mr Tan was wheeled into the casualty department. A hospital spokesman said this was normal procedure for new patients.
Mr Tan is attended by his private physician, who has admitting rights at the hospital.
Mr Catley said Mr Tan may remain at the Adventist to receive treatment for several weeks.
Fears had been expressed at the 1996 trial that he might not survive the sentence. One doctor gave him a one-in-five chance of living until 1999.
Mr Tan's health began to decline when he suffered a heart attack in 1989. Three years later, a stroke worsened his condition.