Tobacco giant seeks $21m from disgraced official

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 12:00am

One of the world's biggest tobacco companies has promised to pursue more than $20 million it is owed by a corrupt former Hong Kong executive following the city's most controversial cigarette-smuggling trial.

More than four years after disgraced official Jerry Lui Kin-hong was ordered to pay the money back, both the prosecution and restitution costs remain unpaid.

The former British American Tobacco (BAT) export director was convicted and jailed for plotting to receive bribes in connection with a massive tobacco smuggling racket in June 1998.

He was ordered to pay $10 million in costs to the prosecution and $21.25 million in restitution to his former employers.

'We fully intend to pursue this case and seek the money that was ordered to be repaid to us as part of the judgment,' said BAT corporate and regulatory affairs manager Doris Ho.

Mr Lui - against whom the secretary for justice filed a bankruptcy petition in June 2001 - has been released from prison and is understood to be living in Hong Kong.

'Our legal section is waiting for the Department of Justice to finalise its costs in this case and as soon as that process is over and done with, we will initiate our recovery proceedings,' Ms Ho said. 'It was implied we may not be prepared to follow through with this case, but we fully intend to. It is the principle of the matter as well as the judgment of the court.'

She said any of the money recovered would be handed over to charity.

It is understood that Mr Lui has claimed that he is bankrupt and cannot afford to pay back the money.

The trial gained widespread attention when, in a separate prosecution relating to the same case, several triad members were convicted of plotting to kill key Independent Commission Against Corruption witness Tommy Chui To-yan.

Chui was murdered in Singapore a few days before he was due to give evidence in Hong Kong.

Delivering his verdict, Mr Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen further heightened the controversy by saying: 'A leading international tobacco company sold large quantities of duty-not-paid cigarettes worth billions and billions of dollars, with the full knowledge that those cigarettes would be smuggled into China and other parts of the world.

'In my view, the tobacco companies were clearly putting their commercial interests above whatever moral duty they may have towards our society.'

BAT has rejected the claim, saying it does not condone any form of cigarette smuggling.