Asian Games bodybuilding champion Chan Yun-to, jailed last year for bribing an official to shorten a ban from competition for failing a drug test, was freed yesterday after winning an appeal.
Chan, who won a gold medal at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, had his conviction for conspiracy to offer a US$10,000 bribe to a bodybuilding official quashed after a two-hour hearing at the Court of Appeal. He was jailed by the District Court for 16 months in November.
Chan's lawyers argued that the bodybuilder believed the money was just a fine to be paid to the Asian Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation in exchange for relaxing the two-year suspension so that he could take part in the 2006 Games.
Oliver Davies, for Chan, said it was wrong for trial judge Susana D'Almada Remedios to find that the 'only irresistible inference' she could draw was that the money was in fact a bribe to Asian Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation secretary general Paul Chua.
Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, Mr Justice Andrew Chung On-tak and Mr Justice Louis Tong Po-sun will explain later the reasoning behind their judgment.
Asked about his feelings over the acquittal, Chan said outside court: 'I just want to go back home and stay with my family.'
Davies said the legal team had always believed Chan was innocent.
'He has never bribed anybody. He has never taken drugs. And he always had confidence that at the end of the day, he would be acquitted,' the lawyer said.
He said Chan was considering taking action to recover money from the Hong Kong China Bodybuilding and Fitness Association, including a government subsidy that should have been paid to him but was withheld by the association because of the court case.
During the appeal hearing, Hartmann questioned whether Chan had committed a criminal offence or a civil wrong. The judge asked whether an athlete committed a crime if he made a payment to a cash-strapped association after he was told that the association would bend the rules a little in light of the 'fine'.
'That seems to me a civil matter, as reprehensible as it may be,' Hartmann said.
The judge also said that the essence of conspiracy was the 'agreement'. He questioned whether the only conclusion that could be drawn from trial evidence was that the bodybuilder had entered into an agreement with others to commit bribery, or if it was only a possibility.
Meanwhile, former Hong Kong China Bodybuilding and Fitness Association chairman Simon Chan Siu-man, who was found guilty of conspiring with Chan Yun-to to commit bribery, was given time to seek legal advice on his appeal against his sentence in the light of Chan's acquittal.
Simon Chan was earlier jailed for three years for five offences, including conspiracy to offer a bribe to an agent, conspiracy to defraud and fraud. He was found guilty of using his athletes as 'cash machines' to cheat the government out of subsidies.