A penniless Hong Kong criminal on the run for 16 years on the mainland stole a road sign in Fujian so that he would be arrested and sent back home to see his family, a court heard yesterday. Ngan Lin-fee, 49, had been drifting on the mainland since he escaped police custody the day after he and an accomplice were arrested for raiding two flats in Kung On Mansion, North Point, in May 1990. Deputy High Court Judge Judianna Barnes Wai-ling yesterday sentenced the father of three sons to seven years' imprisonment after Ngan pleaded guilty to one count of burglary and one of robbery. The court heard that in October last year, Ngan approached public security officers in Fujian and confessed to them that he was wanted in Hong Kong. The officers ignored him and told him he had to pay 260 yuan for 'an identity document' if he wanted to return to Hong Kong. Since he had no money, Ngan went away, stole a road sign and surrendered himself a second time. He was not charged for any crime but was handed over to Hong Kong police on November 3 last year. In mitigation,defence barrister Liza Yip said Ngan was desperate to return to Hong Kong to re-establish contact with his family. Ms Yip said Ngan had lost contact with his family after they moved home some years ago. In October he learned through a relative in Fujian where his family had moved. This triggered his desperation to return home. She said Ngan had committed the offences in 1990 for money to pay for his elder son's medical expenses. Ngan was arrested on the day he committed the offences but managed to escape the next day when he was sent to hospital after complaining to police of an injury to his finger, the court heard. Ms Yip said Ngan absconded because he wanted to see the son, who was having an operation. Four days later, after seeing his son, Ngan fled to the mainland. Ngan's family did not appear in court yesterday, but his elder son submitted a letter to the judge in mitigation. Ms Yip said that Ngan's wife refused to see her husband because she had not forgiven him for his desertion. The judge berated Ngan for being an irresponsible husband when she handed down her sentence. 'I can understand the feeling of the wife and why she refused to see the defendant,' the judge said. Prosecutor Winsome Chan Suk-wai said Ngan had burgled the North Point flat at about 7.30am on May 10, 1990, with an accomplice and stole $1,000 cash and a gold necklace. The two then broke into another flat on the same floor and robbed a 19-year-old girl, Ms Chan said. The theft of $900, a gold necklace and a Rolex watch was reported to police after the robbery. At about 2pm on the same day, police officers arrested the two defendants at a nearby construction site. Ms Chan said Ngan's accomplice had admitted committing the offences in 1990 and had received a 10-year jail term.