In particular, the Securities and Futures Commission] alleged that Wong sold Medtech shares and then bought the same or a similar number of shares back at the same or a higher price, serving no true economic purpose. In the SFC's view, they could only be intended to give a misleading appearance of supply and demand for Medtech shares. SFC press release July 4 And for this shocking horrible deed, one that left hundreds of bloodied dismembered corpses scattered in heaps at the scene of the brutal crime, Wong Kai-wing was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and fined HK$200,000. Too lenient, you might say, although the SFC's chief hatchet man professed himself satisfied - 'this result shows market manipulation is a serious offence and jail terms will be imposed in appropriate cases'. I can't help wondering, however, why market manipulation is such a serious crime in the stock market when it remains the standard method of operation in the property market and no one in that business is ever punished for it. Not only do developers routinely use various tricks to generate illusions of demand for their offerings of new flats, but they frequently hoodwink the public about the actual paid prices and they grossly overstate the sizes of the flats they sell. Are they sent to jail for this? Are they fined? Are they even rapped on the knuckles and told they are bad boys? No. If anything at all is done to them for this, it seems mostly to be the pinning on of Gold Bauhinia Stars. And what of the television advertising for bogus slimming and whitening products? They certainly rely on misleading appearances to generate sales. What is more, some of these products actually injure people and, whatever the SFC may say about Mr Wong, it can't accuse him of having done this. So why is it a crime in the stock market to create a misleading appearance of public demand while it is not a crime in other commercial activities? I'll tell you why. It is a crime because it is the SFC that writes the rules on what stock market crimes are. The SFC mostly does this on the basis of what stock market crimes are elsewhere in the world and then convinces legislators to go along, which is easy to do because the noisiest legislators are almost all barristers and haven't the foggiest notion of how stock markets work. And the reason why the SFC and its counterparts elsewhere in the world like to make these things crimes is that they would run short of business if they did not - a dire prospect for lawyers who were not good enough to make it in real law firms and had to scrape for second-best opportunities as regulators. Understand me well. I am not arguing that we set up SFC-style regulatory agencies for the property and the beauty products markets. One shudders at the thought. It is bad enough that SFC regulatory tangles have become a notable disincentive to setting up an investment firm in Hong Kong. But the entire economy would suffer if the practice became contagious. No, I argue only that a few misrepresentations of the pure truth is characteristic of any sales pitch and the most obvious of these, particularly in the stock market, runs along the lines of: 'Listen here, Sunshine. Everyone is buying this thing and so you'd better buy it too. It's going up, know what I mean?' I plead guilty. I have recited variations as a stockbroker. It did wonders for generating business on marketing trips to Tokyo when discussions of price-earnings ratios put the clients to sleep. And the only difference in culpability that I can claim from Mr Wong's is that I told the clients this lie directly in words while Mr Wong did it by buying and selling a few shares. Whose guilt is worse? I don't deny my guilt, you see. I told a lie and am ready to be held accountable for it on Judgment Day. But while I agree that it was a sin, I don't understand why it should be deemed a crime and I don't understand why it should be in Mr Wong's case either. Take moral offence at my lie, if you choose, but this is no reason to take it to court. To make this sin a crime, there has to be good reason to think that it disrupts the fabric of society. All other sins are best left to God alone. And I don't think it disrupts the fabric of society. In fact, it is my belief that intervening in that cardinal principle of market operations, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) by imposing strict rules of moral conduct on a market does significantly more to disrupt the fabric of society. There are limits to this, of course. I draw the line at fraud, too. But weaving a few webs of sales pitch deceit by generating illusions of turnover is not fraud. It may be disreputable but it is the sort of thing sales reps do in every industry and have done at all times of human history. I can't get worked up about it and I don't think you should either. Only a regulator with a job to protect could make a crime of this.