A former dealing director of King Fook Securities was jailed for 38 months yesterday after he admitted stealing shares worth more than HK$4 million from seven customers to cover his losses suffered during the 2003 market crash. The District Court heard that Ching Chun-kuen, 58, forged his clients' signatures to make unauthorised transfers of shares to his, his wife's and his daughter's accounts between July 2003 and February 2006. The offence was discovered in 2006 by the company's director after two customers, who had not received statements from King Fook and made inquiries, found a nil balance in their accounts. Ching pleaded guilty to 10 charges of theft before Judge Susana D'Almada Remedios, who said he was guilty of a serious breach of trust. Barrister Victor Ho, for Ching, told the court that the funds were stolen to cover Ching's losses in the stock market and warrant investment during the financial crisis that followed the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003. Senior assistant director of public prosecutions Louisa Lai said Ching did not use a sophisticated method - he forged the signatures of the account holders to authorise the withdrawal of shares. His conduct caused the company to pay more than HK$8 million to compensate the victims, and the Securities and Futures Commission in November 2006 banned him from the industry for life. Chief Inspector Rick Chan Wai-kei, of the fraud section of the commercial crime bureau, suggested that investors open an investment account with the Central Clearing and Settlement System to hold shares bought through securities firms.