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Hong Kong courts

Businessman Lew Mon-hung loses appeal in Hong Kong perversion of justice case

Court rules the chief executive and ICAC commissioner are legally empowered to halt probes such as the one carried out against the colourful businessman

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 7:51pm

Controversial Hong Kong businessman Lew Mon-hung on Friday lost his appeal against his conviction for sending letters and emails to then chief executive Leung Chun-ying and the city’s anti-graft chief when he tried to halt an investigation into his conduct.

The Court of Appeal rejected all six grounds of appeal, after Lew, 69, had served 12 months in maximum-security Stanley Prison for perverting the course of justice.

The high-profile case prompted a debate over the relationship between the chief executive and the commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, as well as their powers to end graft investigations.

Lew had complained that trial judge Frankie Yiu Fun-che erred when he accepted prosecutors’ claim that both the chief executive and the ICAC commissioner were legally empowered to halt them.

Defence counsel Joseph Tse Wah-yuen SC argued that the ICAC could not have terminated investigations without approval from its Operations Review Committee, meaning his client’s actions could not have perverted the investigation.

But the Court of Appeal ruled in an 81-page judgment that both the city’s leader and the ICAC commissioner – who reports only to the chief executive – are indeed so empowered, with the top official authorised to direct the ICAC head to exercise his discretion. Such powers are subject to checks and balances, such as when the committee reviews matters to prevent an abuse of power.

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The court also stressed that the offence could be established even when the relevant law enforcement agency had yet to prosecute, explaining that its harm to the judicial system was no different to intervening prosecutions during legal proceedings.

Lew, a former Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member, did not appear in court for the judgment by Court of Appeal vice-president Mr Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen, Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor and Mr Justice Derek Pang Wai-cheong.

The businessman was once a firm Leung supporter, but became a vocal critic following a fallout in 2012.

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He was arrested by the ICAC on January 8, 2013, two days after a Chinese media editor was said to have warned him that Leung would make his life difficult because the former chief executive did not like the criticisms.

Lew said he wrote to Leung and ICAC commissioner Simon Peh on January 9 and 10 that year because he believed he was being framed by an investigation Leung had ordered and that the probe was an act of revenge.

But that did not stop the ICAC from prosecuting Lew on three charges of fraud and money laundering.

Lew was unanimously acquitted by a High Court jury in May 2015, while his two co-defendants were found guilty and jailed for up to seven years.