The government is set to get a HK$30 million legal bill after a businessman and four other people cleared of blackmail were awarded costs.
Deputy High Court judge Madam Clare-Marie Beeson made the order yesterday despite an assertion by the prosecutor that Koon Wing-yee, 57, had brought suspicion on himself.
Koon and four others were cleared on Tuesday of blackmailing Hui Chi-ming, former chairman of Sino Union Petroleum and Chemical International (Sunpec), out of 100 million shares in the company.
They are expected to get more than HK$30 million in costs after a dramatic 32-day trial.
The other defendants were Wong Chin-yik, 61, Ng Chi-keung, 71, Chan Kwai-nam, 62, and Shum Man-keung, 59.
Opposing their costs applications yesterday, prosecutor Audrey Campbell-Moffat SC said there was reasonable suspicion that Koon was involved in money laundering when moving and disposing of Sunpec shares.
"The documents did not speak the truth," she said, referring to papers relied on by the defendants. The disposal of proceeds of the share sale suggested "something false and criminal".
Hui told the court that Koon blamed him for an investment loss and the defendants forced him to hand over the 100 million shares in March 2009 by threatening to harm him and his family.
But Koon said that, far from blackmailing Hui, he had agreed to buy Sunpec shares after Hui promised him an extra 250 million shares if he bought HK$200 million worth of them.
Gary Plowman SC, for Koon, said the unanimous verdict of not guilty made it a legitimate case for costs. He said Hui could not be regarded as a credible witness.
Barrister Lawrence Hui Cheuk-lun, for Ng, said the jury's not guilty verdict suggested that Hui Chi-ming was "lying or even framing the defendants".
He objected to the suggestion that the defendants brought suspicion on themselves, adding that money-laundering suspicions were not relevant to the blackmail and theft charges.
Making her order, Beeson said the case depended on the credibility of the witness and the jury did not accept his evidence.
In such a complex case, she said, it was justifiable for each defendant to hire two barristers.
The Justice Department said it would study the case report to decide on any follow-up action.