The wife of former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen could have faced a different penalty for building an illegal basement at her home if her sentencing had been delayed until the case against three other people involved had been decided, a legal expert says.
University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming said it would have been more appropriate to adjourn sentencing of Lisa Kuo Yu-chin so that the court could find out the whole picture.
He was speaking after two professionals and a contractor were acquitted on Wednesday of all charges over construction of the lavish basement at the Kowloon Tong home that derailed Tang's bid for chief executive.
"More testimony should have been heard first … the outcome could have been different," Cheung said of the sentencing. "[Kuo] might not have pleaded guilty if she felt that the [testimonies from the] prosecution's witnesses were rubbish."
Kuo was fined HK$110,000 in October after pleading guilty to starting construction of the basement without permission.
After Wednesday's ruling in Kowloon City Court it remains unclear who the engineers or architects were behind the construction of the 24,000 sq ft basement that included a wine cellar and a gymnasium.
Architect Henry Ho Chung-yi, structural engineer Wong Pak-lam and Hien Lee Engineering Company were acquitted on one count each of building without planning approval and one of misrepresenting information to the Building Authority.
Chief Magistrate Clement Lee Hing-nin rejected evidence from the prosecution's expert witnesses that the basement must have been built before the completed house received its occupation permit.
The Buildings Department said it was studying the 82-page verdict and would consider if any "follow-up action" was needed. It did not say whether this meant an appeal or a further probe into which engineers or architects were involved.
Cheung said the magistrate should have adjourned Kuo's sentencing until the trio's case was resolved.
"I don't understand the urgency to sentence Kuo. It's not like she was a tourist and needed to fly back home as soon as possible," he said.
Under Hong Kong's criminal system, the prosecution could only launch an appeal if it believed the magistrate had made mistakes. "It cannot appeal or sue the three professionals over again, even if it later finds new evidence," Cheung said.
Lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai, a member of the Legco development panel, said the government should find out who was involved in construction of the basement.