Fees fiasco report blames ex-chief prosecutor

AN internal investigation into massive fees paid to a junior counsel by the Legal Department has zeroed in on its former chief prosecutor John Wood and culminated in a range of adverse findings.

A confidential report into the role of the then director of public prosecutions has found mismanagement by Mr Wood resulted in up to $707,850 a month being paid to former government lawyer, Graham Grant.

Mr Grant, who put in bills for up to 171/2 hours a day at the hourly rate of $3,025, is criticised for taking too long to complete some aspects of his work on the prosecution of the complex Bumiputra Malaysia Finance Ltd case.

The report also takes him to task for billing the Government for time he spent doing legal research only indirectly related to the case. The Legal Department is criticised for paying for it, sources said yesterday.

The completed draft report's general adverse findings are damaging for Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews who was head of the Legal Department during the 33 months after Mr Grant quit government service, when he made a monthly average of $520,115.

Mr Grant was awarded the case as soon as he went into private practice because he had started working on it as a government lawyer.

Mr Mathews, who ordered one of his lawyers, Ken Somerville, to lead the investigation into the fees fiasco, is not specifically criticised in the report of about 60 pages.

Key parties who were sent the report several days ago have until April 12 to make comments on the findings.

The sharpest criticism is directed at Mr Wood for setting Mr Grant's fees too high and for not putting a limit on the amount Mr Grant could earn.

This resulted in fees and expenses charged by Mr Grant totalling a staggering and unprecedented $17,163,814 between January 1992, and September 1994, when a South China Morning Post investigation highlighted the situation.

The ensuing outcry included charges by legislative councillors and lawyers that the Legal Department was guilty of giving 'jobs to the boys', but the report concluded Mr Grant was the right choice.

Mr Wood, who retired last year, said from his home in England that adverse findings over his failure to cap Mr Grant's fees were 'complete nonsense'.

In October last year new Director of Public Prosecutions Peter Nguyen queried a claim of 171/2 hours' work in one day by Mr Grant, 44, and renegotiated his brief at a daily rate rather than hourly.

Mr Grant has since quit the case and been replaced by a Legal Department counsel for a fraction of the cost.

Mr Somerville's investigation did not find fault with Mr Grant's claims of up to 171/2 hours a day.

Mr Wood, who had not received his copy of the report last night, said: 'I was pushing him to get on with it. It would have been extraordinary if I had put a cap on his fees and told him to work harder.

'I'm very disappointed. I have no wish to enter into any dispute with my old department, for which I retain a great deal of affection.

'All I can say is that we were working very hard on this case to get it into court.' The criticisms in the report follow a High Court judge's condemnation last month of Mr Wood's handling of the prosecution of one of the BMFL directors, Lorrain Osman.

Clive Grossman QC, the former head of the department's Commercial Crime Unit who signed many of Mr Grant's fee notes, refused to comment except to say he was considering making submissions on the report.

Mr Mathews had promised to release the report to Legislative Councillors by February 28, but failed to deliver and asked for more time. Its latest deadline was today, but this has been extended to later this month.

The final draft of the report has been completed and copies have been sent to concerned parties, a Legal Department spokesman said.

'The investigation has taken much longer than envisaged because Ken Somerville has gone into everything in minute detail, working up to 18 hours a day,' said the spokesman.

Mr Grant could not be contacted for comment.