A former consultant microbiologist with the Hong Kong government has been jailed for 31 months for orchestrating a fraudulent scheme to deceive the World Health Organization and two overseas institutions into paying him more than HK$4.25 million (US$541,460) worth of research grants and service fees. Joseph Kam Kai-man was escorted to the District Court on Friday to be sanctioned over the “serious breach of 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. Deputy Judge Katherine Lo Kit-yee rejected the defence’s suggestion to suspend the jail sentence imposed on Kam, saying the 64-year-old retired civil servant and tuberculosis expert had appropriated public resources and made misleading claims to various parties while holding a very senior position over a long period of time. She nevertheless accepted the accused had made major contributions to society and actively performed voluntary services beyond his official duties, adding that his guilty plea and full restitution to authorities were reasons to shorten his ordeal in jail. Kam fell from grace after he was convicted last month of four charges of misconduct in public office and two of fraud upon his own admission. The court heard Kam had falsely portrayed between September 2005 and March 2014 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. 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. Hong Kong health expert admits abusing position for HK$4.25 million in grants, fees 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. The WHO paid the association service fees totalling US$144,060, which was subsequently moved to Kam’s personal bank account. 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 to receive grants worth 15 million yen from the Japanese government. Former microbiologist with Centre for Health Protection faces misconduct, fraud charges Between 2009 and 2012, the defendant duped the Geneva-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics into paying him US$239,951 in service fees by claiming it could not contact the laboratory directly and had to make payments via the association. 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. On Friday, Lo set an overall starting point of sentence at 5½ years’ imprisonment before slashing 35 months from the term to reflect Kam’s guilty plea, good character, past contributions to public health, restitution to authorities and delay in prosecution.