A former consultant microbiologist with the Hong Kong government has admitted abusing his official position to dupe the World Health Organization and two overseas institutions into paying him more than HK$4.25 million (US$541,462) worth of research grants and service fees. Joseph Kam Kai-man acknowledged at the District Court on Monday he had breached the trust placed in him as the second-in-command of the Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratory Services Branch over a span of 8½ years. The 64-year-old retired civil servant and tuberculosis expert faces up to seven years in jail after he pleaded guilty to four charges of misconduct in public office and two of fraud. The court heard Kam had falsely portrayed over the years that a microbiologists’ group he co-founded had official connections with local health authorities in a bid to deceive the WHO, a research institute run by the Japanese government, and a Swiss non-profit organisation working with a charity foundation launched by Bill Gates. Kam was a consultant microbiologist of directorate level at the Public Health Laboratory Services Branch under the Centre for Health Protection from June 2004 until the start of his pre-retirement leave in September 2012. He had looked after a number of facilities, including the Hong Kong Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory, which won recognition from the WHO as a supranational reference facility for conducting anti-tuberculosis drug susceptibility testing. Kam misrepresented to the WHO that the Hong Kong Association of Medical Microbiologists, which he co-founded in 1992 alongside 10 people working in the same field, was a partner with the laboratory and was authorised by the latter to sign six service agreements between 2009 and 2014. On behalf of the laboratory, Kam agreed to assist in research on resistance to anti-tuberculosis drugs in North Korea, as well as organising a study tour in Hong Kong for the country’s officials. Unbeknown to the laboratory, the WHO paid the association service fees totalling US$144,060, which was subsequently moved to Kam’s personal bank account. Hong Kong police arrest suspect for duping 7 elderly residents in phone scam Kam also made bogus claims to Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases between 2005 and 2012 that the association was affiliated with the city’s health department. During the period, Kam had sought his supervisors’ approval for organising seven annual workshops and a meeting concerning the surveillance of foodborne and infectious diseases, but never informed them about receiving grants worth 15 million yen from the Japanese government. Further, between 2009 and 2012, the defendant defrauded the Geneva-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), which was engaged by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide consultancy services in support of tuberculosis studies in China. Upon outsourcing part of the lab services to the laboratory, FIND was lured into paying Kam US$239,951 under the misguided notion it could not contact the laboratory directly and had to make payments via the association. The offences did not surface until October 2013, when a WHO technical officer approached Kam’s then supervisor seeking to extend a service agreement which the latter had no knowledge about. The Independent Commission Against Corruption first arrested Kam in June 2014 but did not charge him until last year, owing to the time needed to take evidence from foreign organisations. The watchdog dropped a seventh charge of using a false instrument, stemming from Kam’s application for a bank account on behalf of the association in 1992, on the condition that he plead guilty to the remaining charges. In mitigation, defence counsel Jonathan Kwan sought to highlight his client’s “exemplary” services in the medical field and positive good character as depicted in more than 100 letters written by the defendant’s former colleagues, friends and relatives. Victims lose HK$132 million as online investment scams in Hong Kong jump Not only had he volunteered to investigate the cause of the Sars outbreak in the city in 2003, he had given seminars to doctors and provided free consultations to Covid-19 patients during the pandemic, Kwan said. “It’s all in all unfortunate that the defendant did what he did, and by doing so, put a permanent stain on his outstanding legacy,” the lawyer said, adding that Kam had made full restitution to the Department of Health before Monday’s hearing. Deputy Judge Katherine Lo Kit-yee remanded the defendant in custody ahead of sentencing on June 17.