Two senior judges had advised a retired head of surgery at the University of Hong Kong that he could use his discretion as to whether to report a staff member's embezzlement of HK$2.67 million from a trust fund, the District Court heard yesterday.
The defendant, John Wong, 71, submitted his legal friends' names on a piece of paper to trial judge Susana D'Almada Remedios, after she ruled he had a case to answer.
She took the precaution of keeping the judges' identities from the public - as requested by the defence so as not to embarrass them - by folding the paper before passing it to the prosecution.
Wong, who is accused of covering up the embezzlement and of using department funds to pay a domestic helper, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of misconduct in a public office and two of false accounting.
In early 2007, his former subordinate, June Chan Sau-hung, was found to have stolen the money from the Skills Development Centre, set up in 1995 by HKU to provide training to doctors and medical staff.
Wong chose not to report her to the police or the university.
He said his legal friends had advised him in more than one discussion that it was up to him whether to report the matter.
'I was the sole trustee of a trust. I was the victim of this theft, therefore it was up to me, as a trustee, whether I wished to report. It was discretionary,' he said, quoting their views. However, he admitted his accountant had suggested otherwise.
The decision was made on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, he said. The court heard earlier that Chan needed to take care of her 14-year-old niece, whose parents were among 14 holidaymakers killed in a coach crash in Egypt during the 2006 Lunar New Year.
After the fraud came to light, Chan sold her flat and used her staff provident fund to pay HK$2.1 million as restitution. Wong topped up the rest before the end of the financial year on March 31, 2007.
Chan was sentenced to 22 months and is on bail pending an appeal of the sentence.
Wong's defence counsel, Graham Harris, SC, asked his client if he would make the same decision again.
'Yes, that's my answer from the heart. But if the decision led to sitting here, and facing this [the accusation] for the last three years, I'd be persuaded to say no,' Wong replied.
Wong said it had not occurred to him that the stolen money was partly from the university or the Hospital Authority, because of their tight financial control.
The trial continues today.
The amount, in Hong Kong dollars, that was embezzled from an HKU trust fund by clerk June Chan Sau-hung in 2007