THE full force of the legal system landed feather light on George Tan Soon-gin's shoulders on Friday when he was sentenced for his part in the largest corporate collapse in Hong Kong's history. The $1.8 billion Carrian scandal helped to perpetuate Hong Kong's image as a haven for financial cowboys and has undermined international confidence in the territory to this day. For this, Mr Tan was sentenced to three years, marginally less than a petty thief might expect from the territory's courts. More than that, Mr Tan avoided the $200 million costs incurred during the 13 years which it took to bring him to what must laughingly be called justice. That is $200 million of taxpayers money down the drain - $66.6 million for every year of the sentence, or $18,000 a day. It would have been cheaper to put Mr Tan up in The Peninsula. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the sentencing is as follows. Mr Tan has been banned for five years from acting as a company director. So, come 2001, the boardroom of a locally-listed property company may once again be suffused with the aroma of his ever-present Davidoff cigar. Of course, Mr Tan's defence lawyers expressed concern during the trial about his health, calling in three medical experts to testify to his heart condition and dementia. Those of a religious bent should pay heed as it seems that a cure of biblical proportions may be in the offing: In a number of cases, a light jail sentence has been seen to have amazing restorative effects on the financial industry's fallen stars. It would not be too much to expect - come 2001 - to see a newly-revived Mr Tan jogging his way up the steps to his new office poised to announce his latest property coup, his heart pumping healthily and his cerebral capacities unimpaired. Hong Kong cannot afford another Carrian. In the post-handover environment, a massive corporate collapse would take on added significance and confirm the worst fears of international investors. It would stand for lax regulation and sloppy enforcement - and revive the territory's image as a haven for free-wheelers. International capital, that most sought after of commodities, comes and goes as it pleases - a huge corporate collapse could speed any departure. Undoubtedly, that feisty financial centre called Singapore would revel in any collapse here and actively woo wavering multinationals to its shores. As far as Mr Tan is concerned, crime has paid now that the courts have done their work and reached their decision. Hollywood has a reputation for making sequels less successful than the original. However, there is no such precedent for corporate collapses.