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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Medical watchdog faces questions after revelations doctor arrested over suspected Botox death in Hong Kong was involved in fatal beauty treatment case in 2003

  • Dr Franklin Li was involved in fatal liposuction procedure in 2003 and had licence suspended by the Medical Council in 2009
  • Top banker Zoe Cheung died on Monday after receiving Botox injections at Li’s clinic inside Grand Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 9:05am

Hong Kong’s medical watchdog faces scrutiny over a decision to restore a veteran plastic surgeon’s licence after he was arrested over a suspected fatal Botox injection – despite having being involved in another fatal beauty treatment case 15 years ago.

Dr Franklin Li Wang-pong was arrested on Monday for breaching the dangerous drugs ordinance and misleading police following the death of top banker Zoe Cheung Shuk-ling, 52, who died after receiving Botox injections at Li’s clinic inside the Grand Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui the previous day.

Swiss private bank Julius Baer on Tuesday confirmed Cheung was a managing director and senior relationship manager at the bank and expressed their “deepest condolences” to her family.

Industry sources said the victim was formerly a veteran at Merrill Lynch, which had 18 of its international wealth management businesses acquired by Julius Baer in 2015. 

Lam Yuen-ling, chief inspector of Yau Tsim district, said on Monday dangerous drugs were found at the clinic, which did not keep a register of drug quantities it held, as required by law. Li was also said to have changed his story regarding the incident on Sunday evening.

The charge of breaching the dangerous drugs ordinance carries three years of imprisonment and a fine of HK$450,000 (US$57,500), while misleading police risks maximum imprisonment of six months and a fine of HK$1,000 (US$128).

Li, who was involved in a fatal liposuction procedure in 2003, had his licence suspended by the Medical Council for five months in 2009 after the independent body that regulates local doctors found him guilty of professional misconduct.

Piano teacher Lam King-fong, 70, collapsed during a procedure at Li’s clinic and died soon after. The coroner ruled she died from misadventure.

Dr Tse Hung-hing, who was a member of the Medical Council between 2000 and early this year, questioned why Li’s licence was restored.

“This doctor’s licence was suspended but then he made similar mistakes again. It seems like he hasn’t changed,” Tse said. “If his licence had still been suspended, perhaps this woman would not have died.”

Health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said she believed the Medical Council had professional autonomy and would review each application of licence restoration strictly.

A suspended doctor would need to apply to the Medical Council to reinstate his or her licence. A committee of 13 members would look into the application.

Tse, who was a council member when Li applied to restore his licence, could not remember whether he was part of that committee.

“If I was, I would feel very guilty thinking I might have caused this woman’s death,” he said.

Meanwhile, legal experts said a doctor involved in a fatal medical treatment would not necessarily bear criminal liability, despite the case of DR Group boss Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing.

Chow was jailed for 12 years for manslaughter last December after a woman died from an experimental cancer therapy sold to her as a health boost in 2012. A technician was also jailed for 10 years.

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said the legal threshold for manslaughter was high, as prosecutors had to prove the doctor had breached duty amounting to “gross negligence” and that such negligence was “a substantial cause of death”.

“Medical experts have to be called to assess whether the doctor performed professionally during the treatment and if the doctor had foreseen possible treatment risks and revealed them to the patients,” Luk said.

Additional reporting by Enoch Yiu