Solicitor became 'desperado'

A SOLICITOR who stole millions of dollars became a ''desperado'' after his business investments collapsed in the wake of the 1984 Sino-British agreement, and his only instinct was to keep returning to Macau's gambling tables, the High Court heard yesterday.

William Kwok Yee, 47, former partner of Fairbairn and Kwok Solicitors, pleaded guilty to stealing $15,872,250 and US$1 million.

He admitted nine counts of theft, six counts of false accounting and five counts of forging documents. The offences were committed in 1985.

Senior Crown Counsel Ian McWalters offered no evidence on nine related charges which Kwok denied.

Mr Justice Stock adjourned sentencing until this morning.

The court heard Kwok stole money from Can Asia Capital Co Ltd, the subsidiary he directed of a Canadian company.

He also created false property files containing forged documents.

By forging a signature, he stole a further US$1 million from Golden Emblem, a client company of Fairbairn and Kwok, to repay the money.

His defence counsel, Mr Alan Hoo QC, told the court Kwok had fallen victim to a Macau agency selling gambling chips at a discount rate to clients believed to be large punters.

Mr Hoo said Kwok's success as a solicitor had led him to make many contacts who offered him investment opportunities. But all his investments floundered in the uncertainty surrounding the Sino-British agreement.

Kwok, whose prime concern was to shelter his family, had sought the advice of a Ms Tam who told him of chip agencies that lent chips at a discount rate to gamblers with sound financial backgrounds. Such chips could not be exchanged for cash; they could only be used on the gambling tables.

Mr Hoo read out Kwok's own words on what had happened: ''I became a desperado, completely out of control of my senses. I went to Macau daily . . . I only appeared at my office briefly.'' Gambling merely added to his debts, and Kwok found himself pressured by people in Macau whose operating methods resembled those of loansharks, the court heard.

Their threat to go to Kwok's law firm and to his family to seek repayment had induced him to commit the offences which followed, counsel said.

Mr Hoo read out glowing character references for Kwok from prominent clients and members of the legal profession.

Even the two victims of Kwok's offences felt sympathy and understanding towards Kwok, the court heard.

Meanwhile, Albert Yeung, chairman of the Emperor Group, said he was willing to employ Kwok after his release and a percentage of his salary would go towards restitution.

Mr Hoo said Kwok had co-operated with authorities and pleaded guilty, saving the court a costly two-month trial with 42 prosecution witnesses.

Kwok had voluntarily returned to Hong Kong after his arrest in Singapore and was willing to repay all the money he had taken. The court heard $1 million had just been repaid.