Reid case haunts lawyers

THERE can be few tales of high Hong Kong corruption more venal than the downfall of government lawyer Charles Warwick Reid, the echoes from which still rattle the corridors of legal power in the territory.

Although the Privy Council in London this week gave the government the means to finally get the $12.4 million in bribes that Reid took before he was convicted in July 1990 the legal process here and in New Zealand will be lengthy.

Those bribes, amassed in 14 years of Legal Department service, remain ''unexplained'' but the circumstances surrounding them have been made all too clear in Reid's statements and testimonies since.

Reid, a 45-year-old New Zealander, managed to get three years shaved from his eight-year sentence by aiding in the convictions of prominent lawyers Oscar Lai, Eddie Soh and Alick Au and former Hang Lung Bank director Lee Hoi-kwong.

Three others, including barrister Kevin Egan, were acquitted on charges of helping Reid flee the ICAC.

Quite simply, Reid built his fortune - now salted away in houses, farms and banks in NZ and Singapore - by taking bribes to fix prosecutions while running the Commercial Crime Unit.

He then testified against those whose temptations he had surrendered to.

Through the thousands of hours of court testimony, shabby tale after shabby tale surfaced.

Stories emerged of wild, drunken Friday afternoons with Wan Chai bar girls; of a famous dinner party where Reid's toupee was pulled from his pate and dunked in a wine glass during an argument over women.

Some of the very men entrusted to administer the law allegedly helped arm and fund Reid, resplendent in wig, dark glasses and Panama hat, ''disappear'' to the Philippines, via a slow boat from Macau and China.

Reid was arrested in December 1989 - still in disguise - in a Manila bar.

He now waits in the Special Unit at Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre while his wife, Judith, and three young children reconstruct their lives in New Zealand, where Reid planned to retire with his millions.

As the South China Morning Post said in its editorial in June 1992 as Lai, Soh and Lee were sentenced to seven years in jail for bribing Reid: ''This case revealed that, for a short while at least, bribery and corruption could pervert the course of Hong Kong justice. The much-vaunted English legal system, which has been constantly extolled to the Chinese as the fairest possible, turned out to be only as good as those administering it.''