Ex-Akai chief James Ting escapes retrial

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2007, 12:00am

James Ting, the former head of Akai Holdings, has escaped a retrial on charges of false accounting after the Court of Final Appeal ruled it would not be in the interest of justice to pursue him further.

The court, comprising non-permanent judge Lord Woolf, Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, and permanent judges Kemal Bokhary, Patrick Chan Siu-oi and Roberto Ribeiro, found that although there was quite likely to be a degree of public outrage at Mr Ting walking free, that in itself was not enough reason to push ahead with a new trial.

'The disadvantages of a further trial outweigh the advantages,' wrote Lord Woolf.

In September last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the jury in Mr Ting's case had been misdirected by trial judge Clare-Marie Beeson. The court ordered a retrial and released him on HK$10 million bail.

Mr Ting was convicted on June 29, 2005, of two counts of false accounting related to an allegedly fictitious purchase of a 50 per cent stake in MicroMain Systems for HK$300 million. He was sentenced to six years' jail and banned from being a company director for 12 years.

It was the harshest penalty handed down for a white-collar crime in almost a decade.

Akai went bankrupt in 2000 owing creditors about HK$8 billion.

The Court of Appeal found the conviction to be unsafe because errors in the way the prosecution had run its case had contributed to the judge's misdirection.

Mr Ting, represented by British barrister Alun Jones QC, had appealed the decision on the basis that the order for the retrial was wrong given the circumstances of the case.

The fact that the prosecution was seeking to change the way it argued its case by placing emphasis on the allegedly precarious financial state of Semi-Tech Group - Akai's parent company and the one that allegedly benefited from the false transactions - at the time of the offence was unfair to Mr Ting, it was argued.

'Having regard to the time that has elapsed since the alleged offence, it would not be easy in a criminal trial for both the prosecution and the defence to investigate the issue of the financial state of [Semi-Tech] in 1999,' wrote Lord Woolf. 'The prejudice this could cause to [Mr Ting] I regard as being a matter of significance.'

However, Mr Ting was not getting off without blemish.

'It is important to bear in mind that [Mr Ting] who was of previous good character has, in my view, properly been found by a jury to have acted with dishonesty notwithstanding that his convictions had to be set aside,' Lord Woolf said.

Shareholder advocate David Webb said the court's decision was a let-down for those people who had lost money in the Akai debacle.

'Whatever time Mr Ting spent behind bars is of no compensation to the creditors and shareholders of Akai,' Mr Webb said.

He believed the only real remedy remaining to those burned by the collapse was through civil action.

'The court saga is not over, as the liquidators are continuing to hunt for assets. Just a month ago, the transcript of the latest examination of Mr Ting was ordered to be released.'

Mr Ting's legal team replied to queries about their client's intentions now that he is a free man by saying: 'No comment'.

Mr Ting was believed to have fled to the mainland for more than two years following the collapse of his business empire. He was arrested in April 2003 after returning to Hong Kong by helicopter from Macau.