A taxi driver was yesterday sentenced to 10 weeks in jail for throwing his passengers' luggage into a drain after a dispute over the fare last month.
Fung Kim-wai, 34, had earlier pleaded guilty to theft at Fanling Court.
Magistrate Bernadette Woo Huey Fang rejected Fung's offer to compensate his passengers for the loss of their goods, worth HK$60,830, and sentenced him to immediate imprisonment.
She said Fung had damaged Hong Kong's reputation, and that a heavy punishment was necessary as a warning to other taxi drivers in the city.
The incident took place on August 20 around 1am, when the two 35-year-old passengers boarded Fung's taxi at Chek Lap Kok airport and asked to go to Lok Ma Chau.
When they arrived at the destination, the passengers wanted to pay the HK$290 fare in yuan, and a dispute arose over the exchange rate. Fung wanted a one-to-one exchange rate, but the pair disagreed.
The passengers then went to retrieve their luggage from the boot of the taxi, but Fung drove off with it.
When he reached Tin Shui Wai, he threw the bags into a nullah. The luggage contained 10 handbags worth about HK$35,900; two bottles of wine; a camera; a BMW car key worth HK$10,000; a mobile phone charger; and some clothes.
The tourists reported the matter to the police and he was arrested that day. Police divers conducted a search of the water catchment on August 24, but failed to find the bags.
Barrister Yeung Shak-nung said in mitigation that Fung had committed the crime in the "recklessness of the moment" and that he regretted his actions.
The lost property was not found at his home, proving he had not stolen it, Yeung said.
The barrister added that Fung had not thought the luggage would be so valuable, as people usually kept their valuables with them, but the magistrate did not accept this as mitigation.
Yeung described Fung as an honest person. He had been a taxi driver for 10 years and had never stolen anything from his passengers, the barrister said.
Taxi Dealers and Owners Association president Ng Kwan-sing said a severe punishment was appropriate to discourage other cabbies from committing similar offences.
Describing Fung's actions as "irrational and very stupid", Ng called on taxi drivers to maintain good manners and to avoid conflicts with passengers when discussing fare exchange rates.
One of the passengers, Yu Yuanhang, who lives in Shenzhen, said in a telephone interview with Cable TV: "If he's really willing to correct his mistake, I'll forgive him."