The billionaire patriarch of the Prudential Enterprise property empire says his constitutional rights to a presumption of innocence and fair trial were breached when a judge hearing his son's HK$1.4 billion divorce settlement case found the pair had committed forgery.
In the Court of Appeal, lawyers for Samuel Tak Lee argued that the trial judge denied him his rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights when he unfairly stated in the judgment that they had forged documents to defeat the ex-wife's claim and referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Lee and his son, Samathur Li Kin-kan, are appealing against a judgment that awarded the son's ex-wife, Florence Tsang Chiu-wing, a record HK$1.4 billion divorce settlement in 2011 after a sensational trial.
Lawyers for the father also told the court that the father was "generous" to the ex-daughter-in-law in offering her a HK$524 million settlement after they lost the case. The amount offered was what the trial judge found Tsang would need to fund the lifestyle she enjoyed during her marriage.
But Tsang rejected the settlement, and in a cross appeal, argues that she should instead be awarded half of the marital assets, worth HK$6.5 billion.
For Lee, Michael Thomas SC, former attorney-general, said the judge's finding of forgery was irrelevant to the case. "The judge was entirely wrong to have made the unnecessary finding," Thomas said.
He said if the trial judge, Mr Justice John Saunders, was suspicious about the troubling documents, he could have referred the matter to the prosecutor without making a finding on a criminal offence.
He said the father and son were not given a chance to defend themselves during the trial.
The situation was exacerbated when the judge said his finding, made on the civil rather than criminal standard of proof, was backed by his own investigation. "It breached the presumption of innocence," Thomas said.
The court heard that no criminal charges had been pressed against the father and son.
Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon said: "Once the referral was made, it is in the hands of the DPP. We cannot interfere with the matter one way or the other."
But he said the court would still examine whether the finding made by the trial judge could be substantiated, and if not, whether it should be set aside.
The court heard that the father and son would appeal next week against a court order that allowed the prosecutor access to documents involved in the alleged forgery.
The appeal continues today.