Charges dropped in $17m forgery trial

Agatha Ngai

An immigration adviser was acquitted yesterday of conspiracy to forge documents after a star witness in a $17 million British passport scam admitted giving false information on the witness stand.

After a 30-minute break in proceedings at Eastern Court, prosecutor Jackson Poon offered no further evidence against Tony Man Fong-hang, 54. Earlier, Mr Poon had said he would call 10 more witnesses.

Magistrate John Brennan indicated he would not accept former British consultant Paul Samrai's testimony, saying 'he had lied in court'.

Mr Man wept as he walked from court. He did not apply for costs and refused to comment after his acquittal.

Gary Plowman QC, defending, had tried on Monday to obtain a halt to the proceedings due to the absence of 'highly relevant' material relating to Mr Samrai's credibility.

The information included statements by Mr Samrai to the British police on an unrelated case. British authorities had refused to release the statements on the basis of 'public interest of immunity'.

The court had heard Mr Samrai say the case involved prominent figures in British society.

Mr Samrai said that before he arrived in Hong Kong he had introduced four clients involved in that case to an immigration consultant, whose name was given only as Mr Brickley.

One client was a Thai woman working for a member of the House of Lords and trying to have her visa extended. Mr Brickley's alleged deception case has yet to be tried in England. Mr Samrai had assisted in the investigation.

Yesterday, when freeing Mr Man 'in the interests of justice and the public purse', Mr Brennan said Mr Samrai had also lied to the Southwark Crown Court, England, two years ago.

Mr Samrai had been sentenced to three years' jail in November 1994 by the British court after admitting his part in a forgery plot relating to the consultancy company he was involved in with Mr Man and two others - Opportunities UK. He is now on parole.

In the British case as well as in Mr Man's trial, Mr Samrai said he resorted to forgery in January 1991 under pressure from Mr Man.

But he contradicted his testimony during cross examination.

Correspondence between Mr Samrai, his London office and the Home Office, which had been seized by the Commercial Crime Bureau in 1992, showed he started committing forgery to support clients' right of abode applications in July 1990.

Opportunities UK had only been operating for a month by that time.

'Your evidence-in-chief to the effect that the defendant pressurised you to forgery must be untrue,' Mr Plowman said.

'Yes,' the witness replied.

Mr Samrai was granted immunity from prosecution to give 'full and true' evidence to Eastern Court.

But outside court yesterday, Mr Poon said it was unlikely Mr Samrai's immunity would be revoked or that he would be charged with perjury.

He said there was no proof of Mr Samrai 'mixing-up some dates deliberately'.