There seems to be no end in sight to the legal row involving former TVB general manager Stephen Chan Chi-wan, whose second acquittal yesterday was quickly followed by notice of yet another appeal.
Chan, 54, smiled but remained tight-lipped as he left his retrial in District Court at noon after his acquittal. Within an hour or two, the Department of Justice said it would take the case back to the Court of Appeal in a "case stated" procedure.
This means it could be sent back for retrial or the Court of Appeal could substitute its own judgment. So Chan's case could theoretically appear before Chief District Judge Poon Siu-tung a third time. The department said: "We have considered the judge's reasons and do not consider that the judge has correctly addressed the evidence and/or the relevant legal principles."
The original case goes back to 2009, when Chan was paid HK$112,000 to host a New Year's Eve TV special at a Kowloon mall, but did not tell his then-employer, TVB, about the payment. That led to bribery charges against him and his then-assistant Edthancy Tseng Pei-kun. Both were acquitted in District Court by Poon in 2011.
But the Court of Appeal sent the case back to Poon for reconsideration, after deciding he had erred in law in acquitting the pair.
Poon yesterday stood by his original verdict, ruling that Chan had had a "reasonable excuse" for not asking his boss before accepting payment for the show.
In a 45-minute ruling, the judge noted that the TV programme in question - Be My Guest, which Chan had frequently hosted - was a public, not secretive, activity. "From the top to the bottom of TVB, [staff] knew about his performance. TVB wouldn't have naively believed that Chan would do it for free," the judge said.
Poon said he found no reason for Chan to deliberately conceal the payment from Mark Lee Po-on, TVB Group general manager and his supervisor.
Lee's testimony was "contrary to common sense and illogical" when he testified in court that he would have objected to Chan's involvement in the show had he known about it, Poon said.
This was because Chan's show had a "common interest" with TVB, and Chan never encountered objections from his previous boss when disclosing his outside work, the judge said.
On those occasions, his outside work was accepted informally - with nothing as formal as "approvals", Poon noted. And the payment in question was not especially high, he said.
"I do not believe it would be the legislative intent [of 'reasonable excuse'] to criminalise the defendants under such circumstances," Poon said.
Chan is now a senior executive at Commercial Radio.
Barrister and lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit said he found Poon's ruling "surprising", showing that the judge had "turned a blind eye" to the Court of Appeal judgment. "I think it is to many people's surprise that he stood by his judgment."
But Leong said it was more surprising that the Department of Justice was seeking yet another "case-stated" approach instead of a general appeal which would require the Court of Appeal to consider the matter on its own.