Officers wearing bulletproof vests guard suspect as Hong Kong stolen goods trial gets under way
Defendant handcuffed in court in move defence counsel calls ‘extraordinary’
An Indian-born Hong Kong resident appeared in court under heavy security on Monday to deny handling HK$3 million in foreign currency allegedly stolen from a businessman from India.
Prosecutor Keith Hotten told the District Court that Ramanjit Singh, also known as Romi, was found on March 12 last year by police in Tai Kok Tsui “in very close proximity” to two suitcases filled with millions in euros and US dollars, which had been taken from the businessman just 27 minutes earlier.
However, Ramanjit Singh was only arrested four months later, having left the country on the day of the alleged robbery.
Next to Ramanjit Singh in court were his flatmate Dilpreet Singh, and Gursewak Singh, who was seen holding one of the suitcases that day.
On Monday, the first day of the trial, the three defendants were separated by prison officers in bulletproof vests, with a handcuffed Ramanjit Singh flanked on both sides by guards.
The defendant is wanted for questioning by authorities in his country of origin, and they are understood to have requested the extra security.
Ramanjit Singh’s defence counsel, Simon Young, objected to the move, and questioned why the measures had been implemented, when general rules stated there had to be concrete evidence of violence, and risk of escape, to justify them.
“It’s extremely extraordinary for someone charged with handling stolen goods to be handcuffed in the dock,” Young said.
The Department of Justice said it would respond on Tuesday.
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The suitcases the trio are accused of handling were allegedly stolen from businessman Yogesh Kumar Dholwani, who ran Gap International, a company trading in mobile phones, jewellery and diamonds in the city.
The court heard how the alleged victim had just collected the suitcases from a friend, Xian Xuan, who had arrived with them from India earlier that morning, when he was attacked by about five or six people, who appeared to be South Asian.
“Suddenly, I was hit hard by something below my neck, near my shoulder,” Dholwani said. “For maybe 10 seconds I was unconscious, or maybe five seconds. I was down on the floor, face down. There were so many beats [sic] coming … by hands, or hard stuff.”
He said the suitcases were snatched from him, and put into a getaway van. He took a picture of the vehicle, and called police.
The getaway van was quickly located with the aid of a GPS-activated mobile phone Dholwani had placed in one of the suitcases.
“We can get [the suitcases] back,” Dholwani said an officer had told him.
Hotten said all three defendants fled upon seeing police arrive at Larch Street in Tai Kok Tsui, and left a small red suitcase at the scene.
Minutes later, Dholwani was asked to identify and examine the contents of the red suitcase, and a larger silver suitcase found inside a building on the same street.
Dholwani said there were 12 shrink-wrapped confectionery boxes holding the foreign currency to pay for his mobile phones inside the suitcases, with some of their packaging opened. Hotten said the contents of both suitcases were recovered.
Hotten said Ramanjit Singh was seen leaving and returning to his flat with Dilpreet Singh on the day of the incident, and DNA from both men was found on a shoulder bag dumped near the scene.
A sergeant also “clearly identified” Ramanjit Singh in CCTV images filmed at the location, according to the prosecutor.
Ramanjit Singh, 29, was eventually arrested on July 15. He, Gursewak Singh, 25, and Dilpreet Singh, 24, have all pleaded not guilty to one joint count of handling stolen goods.
The 15-day trial continues before district judge Eddie Yip Chor-man.