Feng shui master Peter Chan jailed for forging billionaire's will to claim her fortune appeals saying his Hong Kong trial wasn't fair
Peter Chan's lawyer says huge publicity over his client's fight for Nina Wang's billions left him with no chance when accused of forging will
Worldwide publicity over Peter Chan Chun-chuen's fight for billionaire Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum's fortune left the feng shui master-turned-Christian unable to get a fair hearing when he was put on trial for forging her will, his lawyer told an appeal hearing yesterday.
Chan, 55, is trying to clear his name and overturn his 12-year-jail term stemming from his conviction for forging Wang's will and using the fake document to claim her HK$83 billion estate. He is appealing against both his conviction and his sentence at the Court of Appeal.
His new lawyer James Wood QC said the case involved "unique features" as seven judges had ruled that Chan forged the will in various probate proceedings prior to the 2013 criminal trial.
In addition, Wood said, media reports about the probate case were broadcast not just in the city but "all around the world".
He said the findings of the probate case were like "the elephant in the room" in Chan's criminal trial. It made Chan the most recognisable person to enter a local court and potential jurors would already have heard about him. "A fair trial is not possible [for Chan]," Wood said.
Wood added that the prosecutor repeated the civil judgments in his opening statement and the trial judge did not give adequate direction to the jury, thus preventing a fair trial.
He said the court accepted the civil case's finding - that the will presented was forged - as evidence. Given the unusual background, the lawyer argued that the judge, in directing the jury, should explain how the burden of proof and the assessment of evidence differed between civil and criminal proceedings.
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He argued the judge should therefore have told the jury that the findings of the probate case were "irrelevant" to the criminal trial, rather than simply warning jurors to take care in dealing with evidence from the earlier trial.
Wood also argued the prosecution should not have used statements made for the probate case as evidence in the criminal trial, as they were intended for use only in civil proceedings. The material included a statement from Chan on his relationship with Wang. The lawyer argued it was inappropriate to put such "self-serving" material to a jury.
"We say that the particular unique features of this case have caused substantial imbalance," Wood said.
The hearing continues today before Mr Justice Michael Lunn, Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor and Mr Justice Derek Pang Wai-cheong.
Two years into his sentence, Chan - who went under the name Tony until he converted to Christianity shortly after being jailed - looked to have lost some weight, but appeared refreshed.
His younger brother, Ricky Chan Chun-kwok, said Chan studied hard in prison and did lots of running in his free time.
Chan had attempted to use the forged will to claim Wang's estate after she died in April 2007. His will was ruled false in February 2010 and the Chinachem Charitable Foundation was awarded the estate - sparking a separate legal battle over whether the foundation held the cash as a trustee or as a full recipient.