Partner needed money to keep firm afloat and to pay off loansharks, court hears A former solicitor admitted stealing more than $10 million from clients to run his law firm and repay loans to illegal money lenders, the District Court heard yesterday. Andrew Ha Kai-cheong, 32, was driven to crime because he was under great financial pressure to keep his law firm, Fung, Wong & Ha, afloat. It closed in February, 2002. Ha pleaded guilty to two charges of theft involving $10.15 million. The first theft took place between August 1, 2001, and September 14, 2001, and the second on January 30, 2002. He denied 10 other charges of theft involving almost $10 million. Judge Chua Fi-lan ordered that the 10 charges not be pursued unless there is another court order. Prosecutor Joseph Pethes told the court that Ha joined the law firm in 1994 and became the principal partner in early 2001. Mr Pethes said that in May of that year, Fung, Wong & Ha acted for All Link International in relation to the purchase of a property on Stanley Village Road for $80 million. All Link sent the law firm a $3 million cheque to cover stamp duty and legal fees. Mr Pethes said the defendant pocketed the cheque and claimed the law firm had paid the stamp duty. The second theft arose when a company called Raingate entered into a provisional agreement on October 10, 2001, to buy a property valued at $71.5 million from Guangdong (HK) Tours Company. The law firm was instructed to act for Raingate and the defendant was the handling solicitor. On January 29, 2002, Raingate paid a $7.15 million deposit. The next day, Ha had the law firm's accounting clerk prepare a cheque for that amount, the prosecution said. Ha cashed it and kept the money. Ha reported a theft to police the next day. He claimed he had given a man $7.15 million in cash after receiving documents showing that the man was a partner from the law firm acting on behalf of Guangdong Tours. The prosecution said the defendant made a false statement to the police and the documents he produced had been created by him. On February 4, 2002, Ha informed the Law Society by letter that Fung, Wong & Ha would close immediately. Ha was arrested upon returning from Macau the next day. In mitigation, barrister Michael Blanchflower SC said Ha had been under great financial pressure to keep the law firm running. It had failed to make a profit since 1998. Ha began taking out personal loans and later borrowed more than $10 million from loansharks. In 2001, Ha was harassed by the money lenders and implied threats were made to his family. Mr Blanchflower said that in order to stop the threats, in late January 2002, Ha paid $7.15 million to the loansharks. Another $3 million went to pay the law firm's operating expenses. Ha was struck off the roll of solicitors in 2002 and has been declared bankrupt. Judge Chua adjourned sentencing until Wednesday.