A judge yesterday apologised for handing down a sentence before hearing mitigation on behalf of a former tax officer convicted of bribery. District Court judge Peter Line initially sentenced Simon Li Hon-lun, 40, to jail for 3.5 years, but immediately noticed he had not heard any mitigating statements from Li's counsel, John Mullick. After then hearing the counsel's submission to see if he would 'reopen his mind', Judge Line apologised for his earlier omission and reduced Li's jail term by two months, saying Mr Mullick revealed significant mitigating factors. Li was found guilty on Thursday of seven charges, including offering advantages, accepting advantages, conspiracy to offer advantages and lending money at excessive interest rates. He denied all charges. The court heard that in September 1997, Li - a tax assessment officer who worked for the Inland Revenue Department from May 1983 to July 1999 - received $121,330 from a company being investigated for tax evasion. In return, he gave it advice to get a favourable settlement with the department. Li, who joined an accountancy firm as a tax consultant after leaving the department, was also accused of bribing former colleagues with free trips to Macau and prostitutes. Judge Line accepted Li had not actually influenced the tax investigation but made use of his position to receive a benefit. He said such conduct had 'damaged the general reputation of Hong Kong's civil service'.