Appeal victory on extradition

FOR the first time, the Crown yesterday appealed against a High Court order to release a man wanted to stand trial in the United States on drugs charges involving US$200 million (HK$1.55 billion) worth of heroin.

Cho Ming-lok, 46, was freed in August when Mr Justice Sears granted a writ of habeas corpus, after finding there was insufficient evidence against him on a charge of conspiring to traffic 70 kilograms of heroin between October 1990 and January 1991.

But yesterday, the Court of Appeal, after hearing from Legal Department consultant Mr Graham Harris, appearing for the US Government, the evidence to be given by a US drug enforcement agent, held there was evidence and allowed the Crown's cross-appeal.

However, Cho left the territory shortly after being released because there is no provision in Hongkong for releasing on bail someone freed by habeas corpus, as there is in England.

Usually, if a person wanted in another jurisdiction is released in this way, he is re-arrested outside court.

In this case, because the judge found there was insufficient evidence, it could have been contempt to have re-arrested Cho without further evidence. This was therefore the Crown's first appeal against a habeas corpus decision in an extradition case.

Another man jointly charged with conspiring with Cho, who had also been freed on this count by Mr Justice Sears, had the charge against him resurrected yesterday, when his counsel conceded there was sufficient evidence against him.

Fung Chuen-kun also faces another two charges, conspiring to traffic 17 kilograms of heroin into the US and trafficking the same amount. The judge did not grant him a habeas corpus on these charges and yesterday the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal.

Mr Gerard McCoy, for Fung, had argued that the Crown had not properly filed its cross-appeal.

However, Mr Justice Fuad rejected this point without calling on the Crown to reply.

Mr McCoy then submitted that the magistrate's warrant of committal was unlawful because it was in both Fung's name and Cho's, rather than just Fung's, as is usual.

On the Crown's cross-appeal, he conceded that there was enough evidence against his client for him to be extradited, and said that as a question of law the court would have to reach the same conclusion on Cho.

The court will give its reasons later.